Building and maintaining relationships has been an ongoing learning experience throughout my evolution from athlete to businessman and entrepreneur.
The most meaningful relationships I’ve built in business have started as meaningful dialogue. The dialogue led to shared interests, complementary perspective sharing, or mutually beneficial value. While each may not result in direct action or partnership, there was value created as a result of challenging the creative thought processes and expanding perspectives for both parties.
On the other end of the spectrum, some relationships have been very transactional. There are certain things people find valuable and stand to gain from a relationship. These purely transactional types of relationships have become easier to spot, especially with my professional athlete experience. I’ve grown accustomed to people seeing value in their perception me, i.e. network, visibility, credibility, access, etc. Some have been willing to pay a premium to access those things, while others have taken a more entitled approach. Either way, these transactional relationships are pretty easy to navigate. There is either a fair exchange of value or the dialogue never materializes.
I’ve learned to appreciate the simplicity in these two types of relationships. They exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, and each has a level of directness that makes intentions more transparent. It’s the relationships that fall somewhere in between, in the gray area, that are most challenging to navigate. Over the last decade, these “gray area” relationships have caused the most headaches in my growth and development.
By nature, I am a grinder. I enjoy building something from the ground up- rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty. Inherently, I want to see the positive in people and business ideas. And once I buy into an idea or concept, my nature is to go all-in to help make it a success. The ability to commit to something and see it through, no matter the difficulty, is one of the primary reasons I had the kind of success I enjoyed as a professional athlete. But, the same trait has clouded my vision when trying to align with the right businesses and partnerships.
This is where I’ve learned the most valuable lessons over the years. In many cases, my passion for building companies drove my participation more than intentional decision making and relationship building. I didnt vet the people and the mindsets behind the businesses as thorough as necessary. As a result, the value created and value proposition was incongruent with the perceived value they thought they were getting.
For years I found myself in these types of relationships. It felt like the norm. From my perspective, it was a way to get a foot in the door. And once in the door, I felt I could add the strategic value I knew was possible. But most of the time, that shift never occurred. I always found myself being asked the same handful of questions, no matter how much experience I had in a particular industry:
- Can you introduce us to other athlete investors?
- You have great insights and perspective, but can you invest, so others know you are committed?
- We’d like to make you a brand ambassador?
In many cases, people would entertain the strategic conversations to get to the real value they saw- my NFL career as a marketing tool that brought them validation.
I struggled for a long time with this dynamic. But in hindsight, I started to see that these challenges were self-inflicted. That is a tough pill to swallow. Each started as a result of the value I was willing to accept initially.
Shift your approach to building relationships
When you accept a discounted value of yourself, you ensure the relationship will start out of alignment. You’ll find yourself on a treadmill, trying to fit skills and abilities into someone else’s vision for success. Once your in that position it can be hard to reset and recover if it not impossible. It can be exhausting to know the value you can create but never be viewed or respected enough to maximize it.
If you are ready to step off the treadmill and start to progress in alignment twitch your own vision, here are three :
- Some current relationships have to go. Misaligned relationships will drain valuable resources. Steal back your time and energy and invest them in areas that give you a return on your investment.
- Build more intentional relationships. Work on understanding the motivations behind the individuals you chose to work with. If their perception of your value and your self concept don’t align, it may
- No more “comfort discounts.” Opportunities that expected you to be anything less than an authentic version of yourself can work against your own progress. No more reducing your value to make others feel comfortable.
Executing these things take time and introspection and require discipline and focus. It helped me evolve beyond trying to make others feel comfortable and become ruthless in prioritizing how I’d define my value.
There may be “opportunities” come along that look good on the surfacet No matter how good it looked I don’t move unless they pass the new requirements. If they do, you know you’ll be in alignment with your unique value proposition.
The initial mistake of accepting less than your value can create challenges as you grow and evolve. They only become permanent if you don’t learn and grow from those challenges.