the shape of leadership

Why Relationships Are the Currency of Life

The value of investing in people

Kent Ingle on November 13, 2017

There is a leader on my team who is what I call a relational entrepreneur. He is one of those guys who knows everyone, and everyone knows him. There isn’t someone he can’t meet, even if he has to connect two or three people he knows before he finds a connection that opens the door. He is incredibly valuable to the team and to Southeastern University.

The university's ability to continue to grow and expand its nontraditional learning opportunities, on-campus experiences, and overall influence is impacted by our ability to tap into a network of people who can partner with us to drive things forward. This team member understands and practices good relationship habits, and it pays off for him and others, again and again.

Part of what makes him so successful at building, growing and sustaining relationships over time is the systematic follow-up process he has in place. He’s worked this out over a long period of time and has it down to a science. The system itself is less important than the fact that he has an intentional approach to making friends. His genuine love for people and the type of individuals in his relationship economy are what drive his strategy.

You might think his system is just about finding and starting new relationships. That’s called prospecting, and there is only a short-term value in such an approach. This leader’s approach begins with prospecting and extends through substantial learning about the individual over time — so much so that he can gather relevant, timely and specific information on a regular basis. And as he has invested in these relationships, they’ve also invested in him.

Why Do Authentic Relationships Matter?

  • Because people connect with people. Relationships are all about human connections — not books, seminars or podcasts.
  • Because leadership is about relationships first. You can do all the right things, but if you don’t do relationships well, you will be less effective.
  • Because influence is not programmatic but diplomatic by design. Without authority, you can’t tell people what to do. But if you build trust with others, it will boost your capacity to influence them, even if you don’t have authority over them.
  • Because collaboration drives innovation. Two minds — especially of different professional disciplines — always uncover untapped opportunities. Your best ideas will always be refined and improved when discussed with others.
  • Because interdependence trumps individual capacity to achieve anything. At the root of your desire for relationships lies your understanding of your need for others. You must become vulnerable and lean into the strengths of the other person to fully maximize your ability to cultivate your success over time.

Relationship Economy

Authentic relationships are rare, which is why they are so valuable. You will likely meet many people who were just interested in talking about themselves or burdening you with their problems. I’m not talking about people who are genuinely in need. I’m talking about those who are consumed with what matters to them, and who conclude that others should be concerned with the same things.

Relationships are the currency of life; you should spend wisely.

Cultivate is a great word to describe a healthy approach to relationships. Cultivating is about investing, growing and developing something over time. That is an excellent strategy for building authentic relationships.

Authentic relationships require a long view, just like investing for retirement. But before you jump head first into cultivating relationships, let’s outline the rules of engagement.

Hallmarks of Authentic Relationships

  • They are based on respect for humanity. The individual, rather than a personal agenda, is the primary building block.
  • They are driven by a desire to connect. Human beings were designed to be in relationship with one another from the beginning.
  • They are grounded in the unique realities of the other person. You must accept people for who they are rather than who you want them to be.
  • They are others-focused rather than self-focused. Good friends don’t make it all about them.
  • They are propelled forward through meaningful interactions and encounters. You must add value to the other person; otherwise, you’re wasting their time and yours.

The greatest investment you will make will not be in your education, profession or even your retirement plan. Those are all good things, but they are not the most valuable assets you will accumulate in life. Those things come and go. What you are worth on paper, the size of your house, the brand of your clothes, and the logo on the front of your car are not as valuable as the people in whom you invest your time, wisdom and experience.

Spend and Invest Wisely

Relationships are the currency of life; you should spend wisely. Projects come and go. Houses are lived in for a period of time. Jobs are held only for a season. But the people you choose to pour into are the ones who will carry you in their hearts and minds forever.

You can tell a lot about someone by attending his or her funeral. The stories people tell are the evidence of the deposits that individual made in them. I’ve learned not to judge people by the number of mourners who attend their funeral but by the quality of stories those in attendance share. Your ability to influence others is greatly impacted by your skill at building and growing authentic relationships over time. Everyone wins when you invest in others.

List the top five authentic relationships in your life right now. What are you doing to add value to the lives of these individuals? How can you begin to practice the principles of authentic relationships today?


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