I recently had a new experience. Let’s call it a professional growth opportunity. In the past year or two, I began attending some formal networking groups where I actually had to initiate conversation, make small talk, and get to know people on a personal level to earn their trust. What a concept! As I developed relationships with these business owners and professionals, I came to realize that one of the elements that has been missing in my executive corporate leadership experience is strategic relationships. In the corporate world, we too often tend to work in a cave, only coming out when we believe no one is around who will want something from us. We let our administrative assistants handle the front line, while we deal with the public and governing board. But that’s not the normal practice in micro-businesses (small businesses with 10 or fewer employees). Below are nine things that we can learn from micro-businesses–some of which you are already know but might need a reminder about and some of which may be altogether new to you, as they were to me:
- Develop relationships with good people internally and externally before you need them. For example, do you have a resource that can assist with building talent management in your organization before you become a statistic?
- You are probably seen as a subject matter expert by your clients and stakeholders. But do your peers in your field recognize you as the ‘go to’ person for information? For example, my peers tease me frequently about my scanning the Federal Register every morning, but I am also the first person they will call when they need a legislative update.
- Small businesses meet with other business owners frequently (called a 1:1) to become familiar with each others’ skill sets and client needs. They do this to better refer business to each other. The better networkers will meet with these peers more than once to establish a true relationship.
- Small business owners establish accountability teams to offer feedback, take accountability, and even build camaraderie with each other.
- I’ve noticed that most entrepreneurs still enjoy what they are doing. In spite of the recession, you can still see their passion. Do you still laugh daily?
- Many of the people that I’ve met are avid readers for personal development. On the other hand, I know many corporate CEOs who have endless excuses for why they don’t make time to read.
- Many of the business owners that I met through networking still call people (employees, customers, and peers) by name because they actually remember the individuals.
- Intellectual property is freely shared because they want to help each other succeed. This doesn’t mean giving away the farm—it just means people not being stingy about helping each other learn from each others’ experiences.
- Dreamers still exist! As a corporate leader, do you still dream?
Making strategic relationships inside and outside your organization helps keep the big picture in perspective. As part of your strategic planning session, do you include cultivating relationships with key people? Do you have your own personal business plan to develop you as a leader? Do you schedule a strategic thinking session with yourself each month? If you do, do you review the quality of professional relationships you have? Or do you only review your organization by looking at numbers, statistics, or the bottom line? Your organization is only as good as the people in it. You are only as good as the people with whom you associate. What strategy do you use to develop new relationships within your organization? What intentional and deliberate plan do you have to meet people outside your organization?
I am not suggesting that you start scheduling time in your already overloaded schedule to add formal networking groups. But what I am saying is that executive leaders can learn from others about how to build strategic alliances that make us better leaders and, most importantly, better people.