Friday, May 18, 2018

Want to Be a Stronger Leader? Use this Map to Improve Your Alliances and Relationships

Relationships and alliances help you build momentum and move closer to your goals, They influence your outlooks and attitudes about what's happening around you. They even affect your longevity, resistance to disease, and mental wellbeing.

Yet in the hard work of building a business we often forget to be intentional about the allies we gather around us. We set visions for where we want the business to go, strategize on financial structures and campaigns that test product-market fit, and use design thinking to more deeply understand our customers and what they long for.

But relationships? If you're like most leaders, they simply "happen." We take them as they come -- but seldom apply proactive thought to gathering the right people around us.

You can change that. By getting intentional about your relationship strategy, the way you would about a product or financial plan, you can design a path to improving the connections that influence you most. I recommend a simplified version of a "sociogram," or map of relationships and social connections. Although there are various ways to construct sociograms, the simple one shared here offers an easy way to identify and design the alliances you want to bring to your leadership -- and life.

Here's how it works.

Draw Your Map

First, draw a small circle in the center of a piece of paper and jot your name and date in it.

Then draw two rings around it: concentric circles moving outward from the center. Leave enough room to do some writing in these circles.

Next, reflect on key relationships that influence you: people you interact with often, or who create significant impact on your life, or on whom you rely for stability, support, and collaboration.

Start to write the names of these people: the most influential ones near the center, close to your name, and the somewhat less impactful ones farther from the center.

Try to identify 8-10 names, and no more than 12. Consider both positive and negative influences. Identify important people from your past, even if you're no longer connected. Include personal as well as professional connections: loved ones and key work relationships belong on this map.

Be thoughtful about the process. You may put names down and end up replacing them with others that feel more influential. Keep refining until you have a solid map of the most influential 10-or-so allies in your circles.

Identify Patterns

Now, consider the roles of the people you added to your map.

Which are mentors, guides, or inspirations: people you learn from or see as role models, whether they know it or not?

Which are partners or collaborators, whether personal or professional? Is there someone who is your "Champion," always in your corner ready to cheer you on?

Which are dependents, relying on you for appropriate care or nurturing - or in needy ways that drain your time, energy, and attention?

Who might be a deterrent: a critic or challenger who complicates your path or burdens your life experience with negativity?

Do you have a catalyst, someone who sparks you to a higher level of vision, contribution, or presence?

Notice similarities between them. What patterns do you see? What gaps?

Design Your Ideal Map

As you reviewed this map you probably felt things you liked about it, some you didn't like about it, and some you wished to change. Use that thinking to develop the Sociogram you want to have surround you.

Put your name and a realistic future date into a center circle. Then, around it, like before: two concentric circles.

Need a mentor? Mark that in your closest circle, or move someone who could be a guide or inspiration closer to the core.

Notice some toxic forces close to the center? Push them out to the farther circle, or, better yet, out of the circles altogether.

Too many optional dependents? Soften their impact by moving them away from center. Maybe you'll see how this opens up time and headspace to move family or loved ones in closer.

Who is missing from your circles? A champion or catalyst? A partner?

Who needs to move closer to center? Who farther? Who needs to leave your circles? Who do you want to invite in? Invest some time to reflect on your ideal constellation of allies. It's the first step in designing the relationships you actually want.

Convert to Action

Compare the two maps. Everything different between them, is, in a sense, your desire for change. Now, all that's left is creating a plan of action.

Identify those desires and name the outcome you seek. Maybe it's something like "I want a go-to mentor I can meet with regularly to improve my long-term thinking," or "I want to limit the impact of negative personalities by reducing the time I spend with them."

Then think of barriers to these actions. You may not have a candidate for an aligned mentor, or you may need to navigate some politics to interact less with the negative force.

Next, identify ways to work through those barriers: how can you create the desired change and outcomes? Can you activate your alumni network to seek a mentor, or reconnect with someone you've lost touch with? Can you come up with a corrective plan for the difficult forces to see if they can change, or adjust your behavior so you interact less frequently? In other words, what can you do to make your desired change happen?

Reaching the success your second sociogram inspires may seem like an ambitious plan -- but isn't that also true of any product, financial, or organizational vision? Move toward realization of your ideal relationship map the same way you do with other goals: by setting a clear vision for what you seek and putting steps in place to help you achieve it.

Need motivation? Close your eyes and see yourself in that future circle, surrounded by allies who help you succeed. We can't do it alone. Designing the relationships that help you get where you want to go is, actually, a big step forward in getting there.


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