The Greatest Asset of Any Leader, Relationships

Last week I was asked to speak to a group of local leaders who were celebrating the completion of a nine month leadership course. Leadership is a big, broad subject. The executive who asked me to speak wanted me to focus on the power and importance of relationships in business. Here’s a summary of the talk that I gave to them, I believe it is important to anyone – at any level – in all businesses.
I’d like to share three quick stories about the power and importance of relationships – no matter how insignificant they may seem when they start.

The best investment you can EVER make is in other people.

Twenty years ago, I graduated from Clemson and moved back to Florence to teach school – sixth grade English and History at Moore Intermediate. I was a teacher for a year – not Teacher Of The Year – teacher for a year! During my first few months, I needed a new car and while I was making the deal on my Toyota, I struck up a friendship with the salesman, Eriche. He was about my age and I later found out that he lived in my neighborhood. Any time I heard a fellow teacher mention that they needed a car – I told them about Eriche.

During Christmas Break, I decided that I wasn’t going to teach anymore – I doubt I have to explain why to anyone here (there are probably a few teachers.) I didn’t really talk about it until the Spring, but one day I was walking in my neighborhood ran into Eriche, he asked what I was up to – how was the teaching thing going? I hated to do it, but I told Eriche that I was miserable. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew what I wasn’t going to do – settle!

Eriche proceeded to tell me about someone who’d recently bought a car from him who seemed to have an unbelievable job. “I don’t know what he does,” Eriche said, “but you need to do that.” Needless to say, I looked him up – he was a Financial Advisor. After several months and what seemed like 100 phone calls, I got an interview, read enough about investments to talk my way through an interview, and was hired. Five years later, the man Eriche recommended became one of my partners. I’d invested (unknowingly) in my relationship with Eriche. Needless to say, what could’ve been seen as an insignificant relationship at the time changed the course of my life and led me to the career of my dreams.
ASK for ADVICE: It can make all the difference!
Three years ago – I met Mike Miller and rejoined the chamber as a result of a friendship with Jamie Carsten – a faithful chamber ambassador who’d even been in my Sunday school class years ago. Jensen Seear and I needed help on a project, and because of the connection Jamie made – I was able to call on Mike. Fortunately for me, during that meeting he called in his then marketing and membership relations director for her help. I was so impressed with her that when my office wanted to hire a marketing person, I asked if I could ask her advice on what we should look for in the position. Not only was her advice spot on –
In 5 weeks, she’ll become my wife – Small connections made over time can change your life – it led me to the woman of my dreams!
People do business with people, not companies.
A year and a half ago, my partners and I decided to start our firm and leave the 160 year old company that we’d been with for 14 years. Within 90 days virtually all of our clients were with us in our new firm – because of the relationships we’d built with them.   Over an over again we were – told “Our relationship is with you – not the company on the letterhead.” Instead of worrying about B2B or B2C – remember that business will always be P2P. “People to People,” as Chris Ducker would say. Your NETWORK is EASILY your greatest ASSET. PERIOD.
 You’ve spent the last 9 months learning together, working together and serving together. Whether it has dawned on you yet or not, you’ve already formed relationships that will last a lifetime and only continue to grow from here. If you don’t believe me – look back at the pictures of previous leadership classes. They’re in the chamber office and in hanging in businesses all over town – filled with people who may have once been considered future leaders of their organization – they are now the manager, the owner, the president – they are THE leaders. You’re the next link of that leadership chain. Tom Peters once said, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” If I were to charge you with anything at the conclusion of your program it’s to do that – go out, invest in your relationships and create and grow more leaders. Florence cannot have enough of them!
If you’re an entrepreneur with a story about how the power of relationships has shaped your business or your life, I’d love to hear it! In the meantime, go out and create more leaders.