How Cultivating Relationships Helps You (and Your Company) Thrive
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"Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows." — Ben Stein
I was on my way to one of the largest tech networking events of the season. Senior executives and entrepreneurs at different stages of their careers would gather and talk shop. It was more than a little exciting. I was in the process of growing my startup and I hoped to connect with other like-minded people in the industry.
But it didn't turn out quite how I planned. Instead of meeting lots of fasinating new people and having long, insightful conversations over the latest developments in tech, I ended up in the emergency room. It turned out that pushing myself for days, nights, and weekends to fast-track my business had landed me on the brink of burnout.
I realized then and there that I couldn’t go on that way. I’d spent months putting out fires, dealing with customers, and doing all the busy work trying to run my company. But not only was it not sustainable for my business— it was damaging my health and personal relationships.
The importance of relationships
“No road is long with good company.” — Turkish Proverb
Researcher on leadership development, Rob Cross, noted in an illuminating article for Harvard Business Review that “Making time for nonwork commitments is not just fulfilling; it also helps sustain your mental and physical energy.”
In his research, Cross and his colleagues found that being successful in one’s career depends on our relationships in and out of our work — as much as it does on our job itself. He writes:
“Many of us strive for a meaningful job, an impressive title, or a sizable salary at the ideal company. In doing so, we drastically undervalue the importance of relationships, even though extensive research shows that it’s people, not the perfect job, that lead to fulfillment.”
These findings are true to my experience. Some of the best times of my life have been spent traveling through Europe with my wife or picking olives alongside my family in my hometown. These connections are the core of my existence. They are the foundation and reward for all my striving and hard work.
Cross agrees: “Relationships outside work broaden our perspective and tap into aspects of our identity that don’t rise and fall with how well things are going in the office.”
As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to glorify the 24/7 hustle. And even easier to forget why we do anything to begin with. Yes, we want to build a business that makes a dent in the universe. We want to make a name for ourselves, and provide for our families. But at the end of the day, it’s the people who cheer us on and lend us their ear in both good times and bad that give us a true sense of accomplishment.
Author Michelle Tillis Lederman puts it this way:
“Whether they stem from business or personal situations, our relationships are what support us, connect us, and allow us to progress in all aspects of our lives.”
Be clear about your purpose
After the emergency room incident, it became apparent that I had to make some adjustments and reprioritize my personal and professional relationships.
This meant making sure my schedule aligned with my overall purpose. The first step I took was establishing a day each week where I looked over upcoming activities and evaluated how they impacted my life outside of work. Was that extra meeting going to keep me from dinner with my wife? Would I have to postpone my trip to visit my family over the summer?
By understanding that each choice I made came with a personal consequence, I was able to be more intentional with my time and get clarity on what matters most. For me, strengthening my ties with family, friends and communities outside of my professional life is a way of grounding myself.
But you don’t have to wait for a crisis to hit in order to clarify your highest objectives. Below are some ways to help you reach this sense of fulfillment and purpose.
Four strategies for nurturing key relationships
1. Identify key relationships to foster
Think about the people who anchor you and share your values. Who do you confide in? Who motivates you? Similarly, consider who you learn the most from. Which experts in your network help you fill in knowledge gaps? These are the relationships you want to be proactive in nurturing.
2. Invest in community
Take stock of your professional and personal schedule for this next month and then pick an activity you would like to invest more time in as part of a group. Cross’s research found that anchoring ourselves in one or two nonwork communities is essential for us to thrive. Instead of grabbing the occasional lunch with a friend, sign up for a class together where you’ll both be immersed in a learning environment.
3. Guard your time
It’s vital we create buffers against draining interactions. You can do this by setting up rules for how you’ll shift your focus from your professional to personal life. For instance, I make it a point to turn off all devices as soon as I get home. I’ve also taken Slack off my phone, and made sure to not review work emails on weekends. This has allowed me to take back control and redirect my time to more meaningful relationships.
4. Re-focus on others
Michelle Tillis Lederman said it best: “Building fruitful and lasting relationships starts with abandoning the conventional ‘'me' based thoughts that are so prevalent in the business world and so easy to slip into in our personal lives.”
The greatest strategy of all is to leave all thoughts of work behind — and give the people in our lives who give us a sense of fulfillment — our genuine, undivided attention.
We do this by listening intently. We do this by making them feel seen and heard.
Sculpting our lives this way won’t only give us more balance, it will help us forge a path toward what really matters.