BRM: Who and what will help me next?

Question: How do I build and evaluate the networks, support and insight that help me carve out a Business Partner niche in leadership?

Busy people, busy lives, lots to do and never enough time. It is a problem that we all experience. Being a Business Relationship Manager is no different.

Is this meeting worth being in?

Is this request something I can pass to someone else or does it have any greater value?

Attending that event is going to take a day out of the week, is that a good use of time?

These, and similar questions, are things that we face daily. Many of the famed “great business leaders” often claim to have achieved success by being dedicated and focused. We’re desperate to find the shortcut to the knowledge. Accelerate building our networks with as little effort as possible. Take the principles of efficiency models and apply to our every interaction. But is all this helpful?

The question that prompted this post is only one that an individual can answer. What helps you might not help someone else. How you evaluate your network will be different to how I evaluate mine. Leadership itself is open to debate and discussion. It comes back to one thing — clarity on purpose.

Over the last few weeks, as COVID-19 lockdown shapes daily life and exercise is limited, I have been reading more than usual. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Simon Sinek, Cal Newport and Matthew Syed all put forward approaches to focus, discipline, purpose and distractions. (Note: they’re also all-male so that’s an issue!) There is a lot of good stuff in what they say, but I’m not 100% convinced by the idea that focused obsession is always good. For me, there needs to be space to explore, to join things in new ways, to dip into something just because and see what happens. I’ve liked the approach that Liminal, a collective intelligence community, takes. They have a clear focus, but they are bringing together diverse perspectives.

When I have interviewed candidates in the past, I’ve asked a question that sought to understand where they learnt about new technology and trends. What was it that enabled their “outside-in” thinking? The answer was not as important as understanding they were aware of creating an “echo chamber” and becoming self-selecting in the content that shaped their thinking. It takes deliberate effort to keep a diverse range of sources influencing our thinking.

You can’t watch, read, listen to, attend everything. You need to be selective. Don’t become so selective that you miss out on the diversity. Depending on your age you may remember first using browsing web pages and jumping from page to page until you had no idea why you started out looking for one thing and ended up somewhere entirely different and seemingly unconnected. Algorithms reduce, and harm (in both ways), this discovery process and we need to be aware of it.

Returning to the question, broadly what and who will help, the BRM is less about the specific and more about the approach. These are some thoughts to guide you in your thinking:

· Know what you’re trying to achieve and be open to stopping things which don’t take you further towards your goal. But be prepared to give more things a chance than dismissing out of hand.

· Think about how you want to spend your time and be deliberate in things. If you think, as I do, it’s helpful to speculatively explore things, then decide how much time you can afford to give to this. Reflect on what types of things do, and don’t help rather than specific sources.

· Find someone or something to watch, read or listen to that you wouldn’t normally at least once or twice a month.

· Look at the value in the connections not just in the event. This is achieved by stepping back and seeing the way ideas have formed, joined together and shaped your overall thinking. Learning involves reflecting, not just transfer of knowledge.

Finally, turn the title of this blog around. Don’t be so concerned about who and what is going to help you, think rather about what it is that you have and who you can help. Go out of your way to help others, advance the career of someone else, push someone else’s idea, find a way to say yes to someone. In doing that, my experience is we will learn much more, and our work becomes more enjoyable.

It often isn’t the way that we’re told to succeed, and it is a fight against the tide, but I would much rather be part of a successful team and see others succeed in a community than claim victory myself. Power is not about knowledge and hierarchy of the individual. The power is in the collective network’s that we’re part of, the connections we build and the groups that succeed together.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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