“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” – Albert Einstein
Some argue that entrepreneurs suck at relationships. On the contrary, I think most of us are pretty good at them.
Many of us begin to realize success because of the nurtured relationships we’ve built. But as stress builds and businesses evolve, we allow our relationship skills to diminish. The more we engage in stressful business decisions and debate, the more our relationships suffer.
We speed walk through the hallway to our office to avoid a lengthy conversation with the staff because we have back-to-back conference calls starting two minutes ago. We check emails at the dinner table because no one’s really talking right now anyway.
We begin to treat all the people in our lives the same. Generic. Passionless. Cold. Soon our spouses, children, and employees feel inferior to everything else on our mind. I know because I let myself get like this—once. As my business grew and I became busier, my time became even scarcer. Enter relationship problems.
My insensitivity and newly-found failure in relationships became evident. Suddenly my operations team dreaded meeting with me, my wife and I were disconnected and my kids liked her better than me (ouch).
This all dawned on me when I sent my wife a picture of my filet mignon from a business trip in Singapore.
She responded with a picture of the mac and cheese and hot dogs she was eating with our kids. Clearly something was off.
This reminded me of the value of working on relationships. I began rebuilding the relationship with my wife, my kids, my business partners, and my team. What’s more, I actually started looking at these relationships as something to be developed and analyzed. I finally realized that relationships don’t take care of themselves.
I now have meaningful, individualized, and long-lasting relationships with the people in my life—because I live for others. And that, my friends, is the one thing we all need to do every day.
Here’s how I live for others now:
- Reach out to people. The expression “let’s get together sometime” has become cliché for one reason: little to no follow through. Our Google Calendars get so packed with appointments and conference calls that we forget to include a wildly important component to our day—maintaining existing relationships and creating new ones.
Keep a list of your 20 closest friends and 10 people you want to get to know better and reach out to one person a day. Show your friends you care by asking how they’re doing and what’s new in their life. Ask the people you want to build relationships with what you can do for them. Genuine focus on the other person shows how committed you are to the relationship. You’ll also maintain awareness of what’s going on.
- Be there for others. Do you have a person in your life that you lean on? This is the person you call immediately without even thinking about it because they’re consistently there for you. Be that person for others. You can do this by just making time for them. As entrepreneurs, time is the best gift we can give. If someone calls, if a staff member comes into your office, make time for them. Be engaged. Don’t cut one meeting short for the upcoming meeting. Just plan better, provide support and counsel.
- Focus on the value delivered, not taken. Relationships are a two way street. Imagine how strong a relationship would be if you both approached it selflessly. Stop thinking about what you can gain from the relationship. Instead, focus on what you’re bringing to the table. It’s not about you, it’s about them. If you find yourself drifting off when someone’s talking to you, remind yourself of this and regain focus. Building a relationship is about having a real conversation and making a connection.
We talk about the importance of relationships all the time. Network, build your collection of business cards, connect with colleagues on LinkedIn, and follow people within your niche on Twitter. But if we’re not going to nurture and value these relationships, what’s the point?
Matt Stewart is co-founder of College Works Painting, which provides business experience for thousands of college students each year. The award-winning program also offers high-quality house-painting services for homeowners.