A core aspect of Leadership Akron is interconnectedness – the opportunity to build relationships across sectors. A differentiator of any Leadership Program is the opportunity to build relationships with fellow leaders from all walks of life, and all points of view. We consistently hear from graduates that “I formed valuable relationships with leaders that I never would have met otherwise.”
But forging the connections is just a starting point to becoming a stellar social capitalist. Leaders must go beyond creating them to curating them, optimizing them for mutual success and community impact. We all have the same constraint: 24 hours in a day. Effective social capitalists respond with intentionality to the question: who will get my time, and how much?
One terrific example came from John Debo, Chief Development Officer at the Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Debo shared with our Women’s Network Community Leadership Institute a “relationship-mapping” exercise he conducted shortly after becoming Superintendent of CVNP. The mapping exercise gave him clarity and intentionality as he navigated relationships with local stakeholders and federal officials. I had the opportunity to share with our Diversity on Board class recently about building relationships, and proposed these compass points to keep your relationship-building set on true north:
· Confidants – The “inner circle” of individuals that provide guidance and support. Some of these may be confidants by virtue of position (e.g., a board chair or direct supervisor). Others may be confidants because of the perspective and experience they bring and the degree of trust you have in them. These are the “personal board of directors” to whom you can go for advice on any challenge. You’ll want to stay in touch with confidants at least every 3-4 months; you might have 5-10 total.
· Colleagues – These are the people you work with on a daily basis; you get stuff done together. These may be your direct reports; your supervisor, your customers/suppliers and teammates. These are the people with whom you perform your core work, so it is essential to have a strong working relationship. Get to know their personalities, including their strengths and problem-solving styles. And let them get to know yours. Most importantly, make sure to get to know them as people – their hopes, dreams, quirks, personal priorities. That shows you care beyond the transactional day-to-day work tasks you focus on together. You might have five colleagues or you might have thirty, depending on the nature of your work. You see them every day—be the type of person they’re grateful to have around.
· Counterparts – Similarly situated peers. You are in the same orbit. For me, this takes the shape of fellow nonprofit directors or colleagues at other cities’ leadership programs. For others, it may be a provider of a distinct service that shares a similar customer base, or a partner in the same supply chain. These are the people who “get it,” that is, we lead similar lives and face similar challenges. That builds in an opportunity to support one another and compare notes when we run into situations that call for questions like, “if you were in my shoes, what options would you be thinking about?” You might have ten to twenty Counterparts, and you’ll want to connect with each of them a few times a year.
· Contacts – Your LinkedIn connection list (presumably). These are people you know, do not see consistently, but you know them well enough to work together or ask for help or information when needed. It is what Malcolm Gladwell referred to as the “loose tie.” Because social media is a primary way of keeping up with contacts, a danger of over-spending time on social media is over-investing in these relationships, leaving less room or attention for the other categories. You may have 50-500 contacts, or even more. Stay friendly and connected with each of them, and be responsive when they reach out to you for an assist.
· Chums - The people you hang out with to unwind. These might be family members or personal friends with whom you can sit out on the deck with and talk about anything, with the confidence to know that nothing you say will be held against you. They’re also the people you turn to when you don’t need a solution, you just need someone by your side through thick and thin. If you’re lucky, you may have as many as 3-5 chums. These relationships are worth intentional investment. Because there’s nothing other than the friendship holding them together, sometimes it’s easy to let them slip amidst other demands of life.
I’ve found these categories to be helpful in my own relationship-mapping work. When we were talking it over this spring, the Diversity on Board class had some apt observations:
· Some individuals may be in multiple categories, e.g., some of your confidants may also be your counterparts.
· Each of the categories are fluid. Some may shift in and out of multiple categories over time; contacts may eventually become chums, or as careers progress, colleagues may one day become counterparts.
Whatever the categories that fit for you, the key is to be intentional about mapping and sustaining relationships. Leaders who do this become moguls of social capitalism, a worthy aspiration in a community whose leadership currency is trust and relationships. Rewinding twelve years to 2004, one opportunity that gave me a much richer relationship map was Torchbearers. As a part of the charter class, I gained new connections across these categories thanks to the growth and connections that came with the Torchbearers experience. The organization has grown leaps and bounds and is even better positioned today to enrich participants’ relationship maps – not to mention their community involvement and professional growth. Torchbearers applications are due June 30. Aspiring social capitalists would do well to apply.