Real Leaders

The Surprisingly Simple Key to Success: Make Sure Your Business Relationships Serve You Well 

Full disclosure: I’m an acting coach, but I’m about to give you a phenomenally powerful business tip. My industry — entertainment — is as cutthroat as they come.

It’s intensely competitive and filled with risks and disappointments. From established and high-profile actors to those just starting out, my clients often face the same challenges as their counterparts in the business world. And as in any business, relationships play an enormous role in success.

Something I’ve seen over and over with my own clients is that it’s way too common to think of a business relationship as a friendship and assume a level of loyalty. Then they’re astonished to find that when it comes to that loyalty, business is business: nothing personal.

I’ll give you an example from the acting world that easily translates to business and entrepreneurship. A client of mine was talking about how great his relationship was with his new agent — as in, “We’re like best friends, she really looks out for me.” My radar was already going off: since he’d switched representation, this client, a gifted actor, had been chasing parts with little success. Granted, booking certain parts can feel like passing through the eye of a needle — with immense competition, the odds are pretty slim. But I wasn’t surprised when that client came to my studio soon after and said the agent had gone to bat for another actor she represented for the very same part he was vying for. He felt terribly betrayed.

The reality is abundantly clear, should you be willing to accept it. True loyalty has little value or place in business. It’s not that kindness and loyalty are nonexistent. We’ve all worked with people we felt we could count on, and people that are a pleasure to be around. But what makes a business relationship a good one isn’t loyalty. It’s whether or not that partner is performing up to your standards. If so, you should continue with them. If not, by all means, drop them and find someone better — which is exactly what I suggested my clients do. But it works both ways: If your performance becomes substandard, don’t be surprised if your partner drops you for someone else.

Why do we confuse professional and personal relationships? One key reason is that we forget the differences:

• Personal relationships are based on the quality of the bond you have with the other person and are based on intimacy, trust, and selflessness. One can trust these relationships because they are not always based on self-first thinking. The people who truly love us at times do things for our betterment before theirs. The relationship should be a mutually positive exchange built on love, support and care. The focus should be on each other’s well-being.

• Professional relationships may have some of the above positive qualities, but they are focused on the advancement of both parties’ careers and professional goals. What is usually at stake in these relationships is financial or reputation-based. Intimacy is not required — and perhaps not even wise. Trust is not given easily but earned over time.

Different Deceptions, Different Strategies

Both professional and personal relationships are fraught with the possibility of disappointment, exploitation and jealousy. But there’s a key difference. In personal relationships, revelations around poor performance and disloyalty tend to be easily spotted and addressed. Professional deceptions can be much harder to deal with and recognize.

I recommend that my clients never forget that the people with whom you do business are not your friends or family. They are your business associates. This doesn’t mean you should not appreciate genuine, well-intentioned behavior on their part. It just means you need to keep your eyes open. Don’t blindly or naively place your trust in a business associate. Know in your heart that they will always be looking out for themselves first.

Understanding this, you can move forward to manage these relationships with grace, dignity, and confidence.

3 Kinds of Friendships

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle noted that every relationship falls into one of three categories:

  1. The relationship of advantage: This is a relationship where the other person is profitable to you in some way. And it’s very likely that you are profitable to them.
  2. The relationship of comfort: This relationship is based on someone’s company or association you find pleasurable, as in fun friends.
  3. The relationship of value: This is a relationship based on mutual appreciation and esteem. This type of relationship is based on agreed-upon ethics and takes longer to build.

According to Aristotle, the first two don’t last as long as the third kind of relationship. It’s worth keeping these categories in mind as you examine your own — both personal and professional. From a business standpoint, this also helps you stay clear on the realities of who you’re dealing with. And know that it’s fine to have a wonderful relationship with your business connections, just as long as you resolve to remain aware of the dynamics.

It’s always better to understand and know what kind of friend/ employee/employer your business associate is than to be surprised when their “just business” stance puts you at a disadvantage. And as long as you live within your own moral code, you can take whatever action you believe is best — and lower your risk of being caught vulnerable by someone you thought was your business BFF.

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