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If you were to ask me, "Ginny, what's the #1 secret to a successful career?" I would answer without hesitation that it's building supportive relationships.
Today, I want to focus on inspiring you to identify and build your centers of influence diagram with that in mind.
In a couple of recent articles, we've addressed What is the #1 step to get to your next level, and How to get to your next level using this tool. Getting clear on your strengths and areas to improve enables you to leverage them to add more value and be more impactful within your role in your organization. If you have a chance, check out those articles.
Over the last 30 years, I have found that building relationships is truly the key ingredient to getting to your next level, advancing, and experiencing a fulfilling and purposeful career.
While you perform a valuable role as a subject matter expert (SME) and add value to your function, it's essential to ensure that the people you surround yourself with, the network you're building, will support and advocate for you.
Likewise, you will be in someone else's network, and you will be their advocate and supporter. Pure will and hard work, without self-advocacy, will only get you so far.
How do you build your centers of influence?
Who is in your sphere of influence?
How do you connect with them?
That is what you'll learn in this article.
Creating your Centers of Influence diagram
To start, pull out a blank sheet of paper, pencil, or pen. We'll spend about 5 - 10 minutes devoted to you identifying the people in your centers of influence diagram.
Draw a circle at the center of the diagram and write "Me."
Identify senior leaders, mentors, and sponsors
Draw an arrow directly above the center and a circle with your manager's name. Next to your manager's name, draw another circle with the name of your manager's manager. Similarly, include other bubbles, including peers of your manager who may be influential in your role--your manager's peers with whom developing a relationship will be beneficial to your work product or increase your influence to get things done. Connect all the circles back to you at the center.
So far, these are people who can give you stretch or special assignments, make you the head of an initiative, put you in charge within your organization, depending on how it works.
These are also the people who can put you in roles you want. Sometimes your manager can also be your mentor and sponsor. Depending on how high they are in the organizational chart, the manager can wear multiple hats. Draw a little star next to those who are your mentors and sponsors.
If your mentors and sponsors are not among your senior leaders, draw those circles separately and include them. And if you don't have any mentors and sponsors, let's talk about that soon--this would be an immediate area to focus on if you want to get promoted and get to your next level.
In my case, my direct managers were both mentors and sponsors. This professional relationship championed my growth for decades and opened doors to new opportunities within the organization, even after I started my new business. I'll forever be grateful for their generosity and caring. I felt seen, heard, and supported.
Building authentic relationships with your manager, other senior leaders, and sponsors is key for your advancement.
Call out your peers, team members, and other key stakeholders
Likewise, it's imperative to build relationships with your peers, direct reports, team, and stakeholders across the organization. That may be folks you regularly interact with, i.e., the heads of other groups and people who perform a similar role in other departments.
From the center of your diagram, create new circles to the right and bottom that capture the names of your peers and direct reports, respectively. To the left of the center, draw bubbles that capture other stakeholders across the organization or external parties, including clients/customers, vendors, or affiliate partners, for example.
Connect with them regularly, so your connections become relational versus transactional. Many of us know how to transact throughout the business day to finish our work. When we need something, we get it from the person. That's it, and we're done.
In a relationship development framework, as one of my mentors, Stacy Martino, calls it, beyond getting the work done, you're also looking to build the relationships over time, and it's developing those relationships that allow the trust to build between you and others.
Having peers, your direct team, and key stakeholders on your side, people who believe in you and trust that you have their best interest and that of the company at heart, means that you'll have advocates that support you, and vice versa--you'll go to bat for them too. That trust goes a long way.
To build relationships genuinely and authentically, get curious about others.
Bringing it all together
Once you build your centers of influence diagram, what do you notice?
Who are you close to?
Which relationship needs nurturing and attention?
Which ones are currently a challenge or need strengthening, and how can you repair them?
Who can help you understand better how your company works?
Who can open doors and create opportunities?
Based on your answers, continue to care for the strong relationships and create a plan to get in touch intentionally with the colleagues to repair strained or weak relationships and leverage your network.
What does a plan to build relationships look like? Here are some ideas.
Plan to connect periodically, weekly, monthly, quarterly, twice a year, including senior leaders, with those on your diagram.
Leverage projects, new initiatives, a recent event, or a professional or personal topic you've discussed in the past to check-in via a 15-minute cyber-coffee or in person.
Keep in mind what's most important to each person and get curious about them when you connect. Please don't make it all about you--that's no fun for others.
Don't be afraid to ask what they're up, ask for their insights, share your ideas and what you've been working on--if you can make it relevant to the topics they're interested in, it will be beneficial all around.
Show gratitude for their time, contributions, insights, ideas, etc. Ask them if they'll be ok with you reaching out again in a month, a couple of months, etc.
My clients and I've learned that 99% of the time, people in our centers of influence are willing and open to connecting with us.
However, when we make assumptions about their time, interest in meeting with us, etc., we psych ourselves out and drop the idea faster than we can text, call, or email to ask for a future connection.
You can build a healthy and impactful support system with intentionality and focus.
Although not everyone in your centers of influence will be an advocate or champion, when you are proactive at identifying the people who influence and impact your role and growth at the company and decide that you'll authentically nurture those relationships, you create many opportunities.
For one, during these conversations, you'll showcase your personal brand and show that you're authentic and proactive. In the process, as you listen and share ideas, you'll develop trust and gain allies and champions over time. And vice versa--you'll get to know and trust others and help support and promote them within your company and beyond.
One aspect of building relationships with your centers of influence that may pleasantly surprise you is that as you do, you'll enjoy your work more, and you'll increase your sense of belonging.
Don't stand on the sidelines waiting for your manager to build your career.
To reach your next level and enjoy your current role, become your self-advocate, get in the ring, take ownership of your relationships, develop them with love and care, and don't hesitate to share your unique value with them.
This approach will help you magnify your impact, reach your career potential, and build a more collaborative and inclusive workplace.
Your career advancement and joy at work depend on your ability to build healthy relationships. I promise you; you'll not regret it.
One of the topics we cover in my #1 bestseller, Healing Leadership, is developing relationships. If you haven't picked up your copy, check it out. Visit https://www.executivebound.com/healingleadership for details.
Suppose you need support establishing and re-inforcing your network and centers of influence diagram or repairing or managing challenging work relationships. In that case, you can reach us at www.callwithginny.com to set up a complimentary strategy session. I'd love to help you as I have clients thriving in their careers and lives. We've got this!
Live with purpose, live with joy!
Coach Ginny 💕
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Dr. Ginny A. Baro is an award-winning transformational speaker & leadership coach, career strategist, and #1 best-selling author of Healing Leadership and Fearless Women at Work. Ginny specializes in partnering with organizations and ERGs to develop leadership dream teams. And she supports individuals navigating a corporate hierarchy or transitioning into an entirely new phase of their career. She has successfully facilitated live and virtual leadership training and coaching programs for individuals and Fortune 500 companies with over 140,000 employees, and delivered keynotes impacting global audiences larger than 7,000. To learn more, visit ExecutiveBound.
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