So, what is your biggest asset? Before the masters of the obvious respond by answering whatever asset holds the most value on the balance sheet, I should state that I’m addressing this question to personal assets qualitatively measured as opposed to corporate assets being quantitatively accounted for. Even with this qualifying statement this is clearly a question that will spur vigorous debate.

However I have come to believe the answer is obvious to those that have thought it through. While without question valuable and no doubt integral parts of your personal arsenal, your biggest assets are not your personal brand, your talent, your keen intellect, your charisma, your character, or other commonly thought of personal strengths or attributes. Rather your largest personal asset is the relationships you possess. In today’s post I’ll discuss the often unrecognized value of relationships.

As executives and entrepreneurs nothing is more valuable than the quality of your relationships. Whether you realize it or not, your success in business will largely be dependent upon your ability to not only establish key relationships, but in your ability to leverage and influence your relationships. We have all known professionals that have been smarter, more affable, better looking, possess a better CV, or are more talented, yet they never seem to rise to the top. These professionals that seem to have the whole package yet can’t reach the brass ring have failed to understand the power of relationships. Even more regrettable is the person who has the rolodex to die for who doesn’t do anything with it. In the text that follows I’ll discuss how to build a powerful sphere of influence.

Let me begin by defining what I like to call the relationship value chain. We all have a personal network, but as I’m sure you’ve come to realize many people within your network are for lack of better definition inactive contacts or acquaintances. The majority of people in your network are people that while known to you are not perceived to be high value contacts and you therefore don’t invest yourself heavily in building relationships among that group. Moving up the food chain from inactive contacts you’ll find your active contacts are perceived to be of higher value such that you have taken the time and investment to build a relationship. Then at the top of the food chain are your power contacts. These contacts comprise the contacts that can create influence, open doors and generally make things happen. I actually prefer the term personal sphere of influence over network as it is a more action oriented descriptor and helps to keep me focused.

Lest you think I’m overly mercenary in my approach and only view people as pawns in a chess game let me introduce you to Myatt’s golden rule of relationship management: “Give, give, give some more, give until it hurts and then when you have nothing left to give, you guessed it…give even more”. The best relationships are built by helping others succeed. It is through assisting others in reaching their goals and objectives that you will find success. Reflect back upon your own experience and contrast the responses you’ve received when you ask for help from someone that you’ve previously provided assistance to vs. asking the same favor from a casual acquaintance that you’ve never lifted a finger to help.

Generally speaking there are two types of spheres of influence…those that just evolve over time by default and those that are strategically engineered. I have spent years developing contacts spanning geographies, industries and practice areas that I have invested both time and money developing to a high level of mutual benefit. People in my network benefit from my active pursuit of helping them achieve their objectives and I in turn benefit from their reciprocal treatment.

The problem is that most professionals even if they intellectually understand the benefits of what I’m espousing just don’t do the work it takes to build a powerful network. Great networks take great amounts of effort. Think of the most successful people you’ve ever known and they will always seem to know the right person to call on in any given situation to influence or decision the needed outcome. This type of influence doesn’t just happen, rather it has taken years of painstaking effort.

If you want to create a powerful sphere of influence start by taking the following two steps:

  1. Take pause and examine where you are currently in your professional career as contrasted with where you want to go. Think about the people who could help you reach your destination more quickly and efficiently. Don’t put any artificial ceilings on your thinking…If knowing Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, etc. would be of benefit take note of this and remember that almost anyone on the planet is only six degrees of separation away from you.
  2. Once you have a clear vision of where you want to go take a personal inventory of your contact database. See who it is that you know, but also pay attention to who they know. Review in detail each and every contact in your database and rank them on a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being the contacts perceived to be of the greatest value to you. Make a detailed relationship plan for each of your contacts that rank 3 or higher. Take a personal interest in rekindling those relationships and finding out how you can help them succeed.

Bottom line…Engineer your plan and work the plan. Before you whine about how much time this will take think about the potential rewards at stake and ask yourself if you can afford not to do this.