03 June 2012

Personal Relationships Make or Break Careers

Some people are so talented they can't help but do great things. 
Others are so lucky that great things just seem to happen to them. 

Well, that's not really how it works. While talent and luck are very much a part of business and career success, they're rarely the only factors. Not even close.

Of the hundreds of successful entrepreneurs, executives, VCs and business leaders I've known over the years, there's something nearly all of them share: They share personal relationships with each other. 

It goes beyond networking and schmoozing. I'm talking about real personal relationships -- connections that go deeper than that.

Why are those relationships so important? Simple. We each have our own distinct talents, qualities and expertise. By bonding with others, we combine our unique capabilities with all of theirs. We help each other. The whole becomes far greater than the sum of its parts. Everyone benefits.

Besides, it's personally rewarding and fun.

Now, I'm a pretty outgoing guy who generally gets a kick out of people, so relationships have always been easy for me. But the high-tech industry is highly populated with geeks and introverts. Guess what? It doesn't matter. It's remarkable how many different ways there are for relationships to get started and develop in the business world.

Here are a couple of examples that come to mind.

At an annual high-tech industry conference in Pebble Beach, my wife and I sat down to have dinner with an industry analyst I knew by reputation but had never met. We were soon joined by a bunch of executives he knew, including a key Microsoft guy. We were all about the same age and ended up hanging out together for the rest of the evening.

About a year later, I arrived late to the evening mixer before an executive conference in Scottsdale and, looking around, spotted the same guy from Microsoft. We just picked up where we left off. The following day we sat together at the conference and shared our individual methods for dealing with pre-speech jitters. It helped to know I wasn't the only one.

Since my new friend was in charge of Microsoft's partnerships with microprocessor companies and I ran marketing for one, that relationship also proved to be particularly important on a professional level. But you know, I ended up working in some way with all five executives who sat at that dinner table in Pebble Beach. Go figure.

Attending or speaking at industry conferences and events is a great way to mingle with people you have something in common with. And since you keep running into the same people over and over again and everyone's usually away from home, it's a natural way to form long-standing relationships that are both personally and professionally beneficial.

That said, the same sort of thing can happen at work, and with people you wouldn't expect to bond with.

Many years ago, I had a CEO I just didn't click with. We couldn't have been more different. So our weekly one-on-one meetings were tense and difficult. A fellow executive who knew us both suggested I switch from mornings to afternoons. I didn't really get the distinction, but he said that, in his experience, our CEO was usually more receptive and collaborative after lunch. So I took his advice.

Turns out, our CEO liked to get out and walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon. So, instead of sitting in a conference room, we took long walks together. And you know what? That really broke the tension. It changed everything. We really got to know each other. As a result, he became more open to new ideas and we collaborated on some innovative strategies.

Not only did both of us gain from the experience, the entire company benefitted from our new and improved relationship.

I can go on and on with examples, but the point is this: If you're not interested in getting ahead, then just show up for work, do your job, collect your paycheck and go home. If, on the other hand, you want to take your business and career to the next level, get out and develop some deep personal relationships. It'll pay off, big-time.

Related articles:

Stop Using Social Networks! Eh, What?

The 7 Pillars of Connecting With Absolutely Anyone
Networking Tips: Go From Awkward to Awesome

5 Reasons You Need to Meet in Person
The Golden Rule of Networking: Don't Keep Score


Written by: Steve Tobak
Steve Tobak is a consultant and former high-tech senior executive. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a management consulting and business strategy firm. Contact Steve, follow him on Facebook, or connect on LinkedIn.

As published in: CBS News - 10 May 2012


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