Tasks and tactics are seldom the elements that make or break your business. More often than not, it's relationships that determine the scope of your success. But most people don't operate that way.

For the past twenty years, I've been a student of business relationships and have observed thousands of professionals in a variety of industries, from front-line sales, project management, and operations, to entrepreneurs, mid-level managers, and senior executives of all size of companies. I've noticed that professionals typically ask two questions when facing a challenge or an opportunity: what should we do and how should we do it?

Although both are critical in addressing the immediate task, these questions miss an all too important inquiry; one which could dramatically accelerate your path to a plethora of viable options: who do we need? 

I'll go two steps further and offer these questions as well: who do we know and how can we connect the dots between the relationships we have and the ones we need to accelerate our ability to get this task, initiative, goal, or otherwise outcome achieved?

To remain relevant as an entrepreneur, it's often your personal and professional growth that'll propel you forward. That's why your portfolio of business relationships will become your biggest asset. You see, all the transactions in our lives--sales pipelines, project plans, checklists, and post-action reports-- although important, are just fleeting moments in our bigger journey. To shift the future odds in your favor, I recommend that you literally map the past five, 10 or 20 years of your career with a drawing.

Don't worry about exact measurements; a simple sketch will do. Just grab a pencil and draw a rough approximation of the major events in your career. Do things in this order:

First, pencil in big events:

  • Promotions and raises
  • Firings
  • Launching a company
  • Funding a company
  • Shutting down a project or company
  • Big deals you made (or lost)

Next, draw a rough line through these events, like the dashed line in my image below. The dips are failures and disappointments; the upward sloping line is for successes.

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Now comes the important part. Draw a circle anywhere on your line where critical relationships made a huge difference or failed to do so. The more important the role of relationships at that point, the bigger the circle you draw.

For example, if you tried and failed to raise funding because you lacked enough trusted relationships, draw a big circle before the dip that indicates that failure. In the same manner, if you got recruited for a big job because a key member of your network recommended you, draw a big circle before that upward-sloping point.

Now, step back and look.

You should have a circle before every significant shift in the line. If you don't, critical relationships aren't playing a big enough factor in your career (or you're not yet recognizing their role.)

In addition, if you have a long stretch of a largely flat line without any circles to indicate a critical relationship, then your career probably stalled because you lacked enough strong relationships.

Looking at your drawing, you should notice that relationships are extremely important. You should track them, map them and nurture them. No other action you can take will have as great an impact on your future. 

Want to get more proactive in infusing business relationships in your personal and professional growth journey? Reciprocate first by adding consistent value to your relationships. Be diligent and ensure that they feel better off for knowing you. In my experience, if someone is worth knowing, they are worth your attention. Create and execute a plan to consistently keep in touch with critical relationships. This takes time and effort, but the dividends can be huge.

Finally, share your goals and aspirations openly with those you like, trust, and respect. People can't help you if they can't understand what you are doing and why. When engaging others for help, be clear and focused and make it easy for them to contribute to your success.

I've always believed one's calendar and checkbook says a lot about the relationships we value. Because that's often where we prioritize our investments of time and resources. Ask yourself, who are you investing in? Who's investing in you?