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Are You Relationally Willing? The Secret to Professional Growth

Embracing Connections for Enhanced Professional Success

In our current hyperspeed business world, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind. We're focused on hitting our numbers, meeting project deadlines, and putting out daily fires. But in this constant state of doing, we often neglect one of the most critical aspects of professional success: being relationally willing.

What does it mean to be relationally willing? At its core, it's about being open to new relationships, new perspectives, and new possibilities. It's about recognizing that every interaction, every conversation, has the potential to shift your trajectory in profound ways.

The Power of YES in Relationships

Too often, we default to NO. “No, I don't have time for that event.” “No, I can't spare an hour for that coffee.” “No, I'm too busy to attend that conference.” But every time we say no, particularly to a chance to engage with peers and step away from our daily obligations, we're cutting ourselves off from a world of serendipitous opportunities.

I recently spoke with a highly successful Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) who had just retired. He admitted that during his tenure, he never made time for multi-day leadership programs. He was always too busy, too burdened by his immediate responsibilities. But in his next breath, he shared his deep regret. He wished he had taken more opportunities to step away from his day-to-day obligations, collaborate with like-minded peers, surround himself with fresh perspectives, and work on his aspirations.

This is a common refrain I hear from executives in the fall or winter of their careers. They realize, often too late, that being relationally closed off limited not only their personal and professional growth but also the growth of their exceptional talent and, ultimately, their organizations.

The Solomon Paradox

One of the most powerful benefits of being relationally willing is what's known as the Solomon Paradox. This refers to the phenomenon where we're often wiser when advising others on their problems than we are when tackling our own.

When we engage with peers, hear their challenges, and offer our insight, it often sparks solutions to our own dilemmas. It's like the old adage about the painter’s house needing a fresh coat of paint—we're so close to our own situations that we can't see the way forward. But when we step into someone else's perspective, the path becomes clear.

I've seen this play out countless times, both in my career and in the leaders I work with. A casual conversation about a colleague's struggle with team motivation unlocks a new approach to engaging your staff more impactfully. A workshop discussion about navigating a complex client relationship reveals a blind spot in your account management. The examples are endless.

Being relationally willing, stepping into others' experiences, and lending your wisdom is about expanding your own toolbox and gaining new lenses through which to view your challenges and opportunities. It's a reciprocal process of growth and insight.

Overcoming the Barriers

So why do we struggle with being relationally willing? There are a few common barriers:

  1. Time scarcity: We feel we can't afford to step away from urgent demands. This also spills over to control issues, where some leaders feel that if they don’t do or lead the initiative, it won’t get done to their satisfaction. As such, they overcommit – largely because they continue to hire projects and not peers!

  2. Comfort zone: Engaging with new people in new contexts can feel uncomfortable. We’re all creatures of habit and thrive in known surroundings. Take us out of an environment we know well, and the lack of clarity, definitions of purpose, or the desired outcomes controlled by us all become unnerving.

  3. Perceived irrelevance: We assume certain relationships or events won't be valuable. “I’m in cybersecurity; she’s a leader in corporate travel – we don’t have anything in common!” Wrong! You’re both struggling with the disruptive nature of AI. You both struggle in finding and retaining exceptional talent. You’re both trying to get into difficult yet necessary net new C-suite relationships!

But here's the truth: these are all mental constructs that hold us back. Research has shown that when we step away from a problem and return with fresh eyes, we're far more likely to find a solution. When we help others tackle their challenges, we gain insight into our own. Diverse relationships and experiences are the lifeblood of innovation and growth.

This isn't to say we should say yes to every invitation or interaction. We still need filters. I evaluate potential relationships on three key criteria:

  • Stature (would they create value as a peer or a partner?),

  • Relevance (do they align with my strategic needs, wants, and priorities?) and

  • Actionable Insight (will I learn something valuable that I can immediately implement?)

Within these boundaries, I try to default to "yes" whenever possible.

Fostering a Culture of Relational Willingness

Relational willingness is imperative for leaders in the evolution of their organizations. The best leaders I know create cultures that encourage and enable their people to build rich Relationship Currency®, Reputation Capital®, and their respective Professional Net Worth®.

This mindset begins in the interview process by inserting relationship-centric questions to better understand the candidate’s mindset, skillset, and roadmap for not just doing what’s required in their ideal role but also the manner in which they’ll choose to engage and influence their internal and external relationships.

From the interview process through onboarding (wonder how many organizations assign a professional peer as a relationship buddy to help the new hire navigate the complex organizational maze) and ongoing training and development (infusing relationship-centric content, skills development, role plays, and deep relational insights amidst strategic initiatives) of every employee.

The intentional development of a culture of relational willingness extends to how we develop leaders over their careers. When we promote star individual contributors to their first-time management roles, are we equipping them to lead through influence and authentic, value-based connection? Are our performance metrics and compensation incentives rewarding relational skills or just transactional outcomes? Are we encouraging leaders to model the relationship-centric behaviors we need to thrive even in the most challenging market conditions?

Building a relationship-centric organization requires weaving this mindset through every stage of the employee experience journey. It's not a one-and-done training but a cultural ethos.

The Power and Promise of Strategic Relationships

When I reflect on my own career, being relationally willing has been the single most important factor in much of my success. It's led to clients who have hired me across multiple companies, speaking engagements around the globe, and a rich tapestry of partners and friends who inspire me daily.

This approach isn't for everyone. I've had buyers bristle at my efforts to build rapport, and leaders dismiss it as superficial or agenda-driven. But for those who embrace it and understand the authentic, transformative power of relationships, the approach often becomes a wake-up call in their own career journey.

My advice? Within your own boundaries (you read mine above), look for opportunities to say yes more often. Step outside your comfort zone. Seek out people and experiences that challenge your assumptions. Invest in not just transactional contacts but truly transformative and often strategic internal and external relationships. The ROI may not always be immediate or obvious, but over the arc of your career, it will be immense. You may also find yourself redefining the traditional Return on Investment definition to one of Return on Impact, Image, Influence, and Insights!

In an increasingly automated and transactional world, leaders and organizations that prioritize genuine human connection will thrive. Being relationally willing is a critical competitive advantage.

So ask yourself: Are you relationally willing? Are you open to the serendipity and possibility of new connections? Are you creating a culture that enables your people to be the same?

The future of your career and your organization may depend on your answer!

Relationship Economics, Curve Benders, and Co-Create by David Nour

David Nour is the author of 12 books translated into eight languages, including best-sellers Relationship Economics®, Co-Create, and Curve Benders. He regularly speaks at corporate meetings, industry association conferences, and academic forums on the intentional, quantifiable, and strategic value of business relationships.
Learn more at NourGroup.com/About.

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