I had the privilege this fall to speak on personal branding at three universities. I normally speak to professionals, so it was a fun and enjoyable change of pace to address so many young people, “future professionals.”
At each of those universities, I asked the students to do me a favor: “Look at the persons sitting on either side of you and memorize their faces,” I said. “There is a chance that one of the two people you just saw could be your boss someday. ... So you better start kissing up right now!”
Most of the students were sitting next to friends, so they immediately started laughing and giving each other a hard time. The thought of working for and reporting to a college buddy was so crazy to most of them that it was always hard for me to quiet them down.
Once calm was restored, I told them that one of my closest high school friends hired me for a job 12 years ago and that I still hold that position today. Furthermore, I told the students that I have done business with several people I've known since college, high school and even childhood.
What does this story mean for you?
All people and all relationships matter. You never know who will deliver the right opportunity at just the right time. Sometimes, the person who seemingly can do nothing for you ends up being the person who changes your life.
To get ahead in business and in life, you certainly must build relationships with the “right” people, but you have to be careful. If you become too obsessed with impressing the ostensibly rich and powerful, you might miss out on the many other people who have wonderful things to offer you.
The supposedly nonpowerful people in your life may have great influence over powerful decision makers. Administrative assistants come to mind. Oftentimes, a salesperson could be so focused on impressing the decision maker in the corner office that he or she brushes past the administrative assistant with barely an acknowledgment. A job candidate could be so focused on impressing the hiring manager in an interview that he or she does the same thing. Big mistakes.
As any savvy professional knows, decision makers tend to be very dependent upon their administrative assistants as well as their direct professional reports. If a staff member feels disrespected by a prospective vendor, the staff member probably will sabotage the would-be vendor's chances of getting the business.
As an outsider, you don't know the hidden relationships that may exist between the powerful person you want to impress and the staff members surrounding him or her. Treat all people like gold, because your success depends on it.
Even when you're not in “sales mode” or “job-seeking mode,” it's worth your while to take a little time for everyone. You never know who could be your boss someday. You never know who could be your client someday. You never know what person at your neighbor's cocktail party could hook you up with your biggest client ever. Any relationship has the potential to bear fruit if you simply tend to it.
Also, when thinking about building relationships for your professional benefit, don't forget the people in your own backyard. Too many times we are tempted to focus solely on the hard-to-reach people whom we dream of doing business with. In pursuing them, it's easy to forget about people already around you. They might know more and could be accomplishing more than you think.
Jeff Beals is an Omaha author and speaker who can be reached at www.JeffBeals.com.