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One thing entrepreneurs who would like to scale up their businesses have to come to terms with is that they can’t achieve their best results alone.

As a start up or solopreneur, if you try to do everything yourself, you’ll be limiting your growth. Even in the early stages of starting a business, and when money is tight, you’ll still need to put your trust in others. If you’re unwilling to do this, you’ll end up wasting precious time. You’ll struggle with things you’re either bad at or you don’t fully understand. This will slow your progress, increase the risk of costly mistakes, and make growth much harder than it needs to be.

So an essential skill of every entrepreneur is the ability to get ‘out there’ and build win-win relationships with complementary others.

In the early days, this can come in the form of partnerships, outsourced low cost support, joint ventures, or other people who will support you while you add value to them. This works as leverage: allowing you do more of the thing you do best, whilst letting others do what they’re great at too.

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ALL relationships expose you to personal, emotional, business and financial risk, as well as parallel opportunity.

I love the topic of people risk: how, when, why and who to trust. How to deepen and extend a relationship through trust – and when to pull up the drawbridge and exit from a relationship that is likely to do you more harm than good. So let’s look at about why the right relationships are so critical in business, and why trust matters most of all.

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Some entrepreneurs exit corporate life because they’re tired of having to engage with people they would never have chosen to associate with, had they had the choice. However when they become entrepreneurs, and because they’re more used to reacting to others, rather than being in the driving seat of their relationships, that they can struggle to know who and when to trust. They sometimes find it hard to spot users who will drain their bank balance and their time – without consideration to the value they can give in return.

Remember: A person of value lets others win—in fact, helps them win—and doesn’t looks to exploit or gain advantage at another’s expense.

ENTREPRENEURS CAN FREE THEMSELVES FROM TOXIC PEOPLE

For those of you who don’t know me well, I spent 20 years in media and entertainment in London, working in senior positions for television companies and advertising agencies, before scaling and selling an international brand identity company to a US communications group.

When I look back on those days, there were some professional relationships that I enjoyed. Others I simply endured. When I reflect back on the behaviours I had to tolerate, the politics I felt I had to put up with, the games I had to play, I am so relieved to be in charge of my own destiny now. Of course no-one forced me to engage with politics, to put up with unacceptable behaviour, or to play stupid games to elevate my status over others, but had I not done so my career would definitely have been more brutal and short lived.

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That is just the way it was, and in some corporate environments it’s the way it still is today.

In certain toxic workplaces, where you have a boss, your primary role is not to make the business and yourself in turn more successful: it’s to please them.

Which also means not making waves, or making them feel threatened or insecure. You may be expected to hold back reasonable financial demands, because even if you’re shouldering a lot of responsibility and doing work they should be doing, while they sit back and take it easy, you’re not supposed to ask for compensation, because the way they see it, the chief perk of that position is exactly to have it that way. What a shame, when it could be so different.

LACK OF TRUST MAKES HUMANS FEEL ALONE, SCARED AND SAD.

Early in my corporate career I was moved up to senior business development and account directorship roles. Although I was a high earner, there was also a price to pay in terms of the expectations loaded upon my shoulders, the hours I had to work, the indifference towards my personal or family life, the willingness of others to stab me in the back if they felt they could gain power and of course money. Trust was in short supply, and as a single parent, without family support, that also made me feel sad, scared and alone at times.

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Selfishness and lack of care and consideration for others is prevalent in the entrepreneurial world too. And here the stakes are much higher, because if you engage with the wrong people as an entrepreneur, there is no salary at the end of the month to save you. Relationships which lack a solid foundations of trust, can, and will derail your success.

But the wonderful blessing of entrepreneurship is that you can choose your relationships. You can choose to fill your life with people you trust. Your business will be more successful, and your life more joyful, as a result.

I encourage you to put TRUST at the top of your list when choosing your relationships as an entrepreneur. Take your time to get to know people, and find a small, low stakes piece of work you can do together before escalating your activities together. Don’t jump in too quickly – give value first – then sit back and observe what you are receiving in return. Are you contributing to someone else’s wealth and success, and are they contributing to yours? Or are they draining your bank balance and eating into your time, without creating value for you?

Here are my top five principles to help you build trust and a win-win connection with others:

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Principle number 1 is Empathy. Empathy is emotional intelligence in action. It’s the ability to relate to people as individuals and see a situation from their perspective as well as your own. The reason why empathy is important is because people need to feel heard and fully accepted by you before they’ll trust you. I interviewed Maria Ross, who is a leading expert on this topic, and the author of a great book called the Empathy Edge, in one of my podcast episodes. If you’re interested in learning more about the power of empathy why not check out our interview together here: http://apple.co/3sLIKkM?

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Principle number 2 is ClarityWhen you’re getting to know others, you need to be clear on the outcome you’re personally aiming for. If the other person has a different agenda, exploring this together is important before you deepen and extend the relationship. As an entrepreneur, being clear and consistent in your communications will create trust and goodwill, and ensure you get the very best results from others.

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Principle number 3 is Patience. Always strive to be patient and calm, especially if you’re raising a difficult issue with someone. This keeps you in control and ensures the other person will trust you. Pushing someone too hard, or making an unreasonable demand or ultimatum, is an act of dominance, and destroys trust. At its worst, impatience can turn to aggression. And blowing your top is the ultimate communications fail. It destroys trust, sometimes permanently, and always makes tricky situations worse.

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Principle number 4 is Listening. Active listening requires you to step outside yourself and focus on another for as long as it takes to truly appreciate their experience and perspective. Active listening helps in two ways: it tells people you’re genuinely invested in the relationship, and it helps you get a clearer understanding of their values. Active listening is the best form of information gathering there is. It breaks down assumptions and misinformation to give you true people intelligence.

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Principle number 5 is Control. Control is like a double edged sword. You’ll need to stop controlling and start trusting others if you want to get the best out of them. But conversely,  you’ll need to stay in control of yourself, and deal with breaches of trust quickly and firmly. Be courageous and resist people-pleasing. Tony Robbins says integrity is: “Doing what’s hard when no one’s looking.” I suggest that it’s also: “Saying what’s hard when it won’t be received well.” To build the trust that will take your business and life to its best level yet, you need to behave with integrity and step up to deal with the ‘tough calls’, every time.

We’ve talked about building relationships of trust for start-ups and early stage SME’s. Here are my top four principles for building trust in a larger businesses, with teams already in place.

Step One is to establish an empowered culture, putting care and connection first. Lead by example, showing others that your business is a place where courage, emotional openness and independent thinking are rewarded. Where mistakes are celebrated as a sign of trying, and blame, judgement and power plays are discouraged.

If someone’s struggling, step in to help them resolve the issue. If they could have tackled the problem alone, tell them – so they will feel empowered to deal with similar challenges in future. Help them share and implement their ideas. Give them goals and standards of behaviour that can be taught, measured and evaluated. Demonstrate, through your own conduct, that the best route to success is always through helping others succeed.

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Step Two is to always be ready for those tough conversations. As discussed before, these are the conversations that will lead to lasting, positive change in your business. Discourage the cultural norm of “nice and polite”, which causes a lack of clarity, poor trust and engagement and increases problematic behaviour. If someone isn’t taking responsibility for their performance or is trying to shift blame or accountability onto someone else, as a leader you’ll need to ‘give it to them straight’. This will build trust across the board. Employees or team members will feel a sense of protection from you if they know you are unwilling to tolerate bad or unethical practices.

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Step Three is to learn about and work with other peoples’values.

In small businesses, opportunities for career progression can be limited, but this may not be what matters to your employees.

Perhaps they care more about flexible working hours, acquiring new skills, or the opportunity to earn high commissions. You won’t know what their values are until you ask each of them individually. So, make it a habit to check-in personally with others, as well as yourself, and ask them how you can serve them better. Sometimes, though, people are just not a good fit for you and your business anymore, so never think you have to pander to unreasonable demands.

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Step Four is to bring emotion to your discussions, which encourages openness and helps others be open in turn. Business IS personal, so learn to speak from the heart. This doesn’t mean indiscriminately sharing everything about your personal difficulties, or seeking reassurance and comfort from your employees. It means sharing your feelings about problems that arise in the business and telling others what you think both you and they can do to improve things.

Here’s the type of thing you could say: “I feel sad, both for myself and for you, that your hard work and efforts weren’t appreciated by our clients. But disappointments and setbacks are a valuable part of growing any business. The lessons we’ve learned together will make us more successful in future, so let’s look at how we could get it right next time.”

Every entrepreneur has ups and downs, and it’s just part of life to come across bad apples from time to time. Stay cheerful and positive, make sure you have the support you need, and build in time for rest and reflection, so that you never take untrustworthy behaviour to heart.

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When trust erodes, relationships stagnate. People feel they can’t tell the truth about themselves because others will either use this against them or judge them in some way. That’s why, as an entrepreneur, you must always lead the way in terms of being authentic, honest and open in your communications, and never ever settle for second best when it comes to relationships.

If there’s just one message I’d like you to take away from this article, it is to trust your intuition. If, after a period of time getting to know someone, you feel uncomfortable or anxious when you think about them, there’s a reason for that, and it’s your job to uncover what that reason is.  

When trust and acceptance is present, relationships evolve. You’ll discover deeper layers of a person: their hidden talents, attributes and skills, as well as their vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This guides you to get the very best out of them. In turn, and as others get to know you, they’ll know when they need to step up or step in for you. They’ll know when to leave you alone because you need quiet time, or you’re ‘playing’ in your zone of genius. They’ll know the things that annoy you, upset you or make you excited and happy. And isn’t that what great relationships are all about?

I wish you every success in all your entrepreneurial relationships – and I sincerely hope you will be blessed with trustworthy people in your business and life.

If you love the topic of people in business, you will also love my best selling book The Smart Connector. You can buy it in your preferred format (Print, Audible and Kindle) here: https://amzn.to/376B1TG

Book a call to discuss 1:1 mentoring services here: https://bit.ly/2BYRH4n

Browse the Smart Connector podcast here: https://apple.co/2GRHNUZ

Thanks for reading my article, and see you again soon!