December is always an interesting time of year: Things that are happening for many:

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A common thread woven through almost all the demands/pressure placed on you at this time of year is ‘relationships‘. It is in December that I reflect on the contributions that I have made/received from relationships both inside and outside of work with a view to ensuring it is in balance in the year ahead.

2023 has been an interesting year of reflection (due to all the layoffs/change) that has reminded me that people don’t remember what you do as much as how you made them feel. This year I have had a lot of people reach out to me who have previously deposited significant social capital with me and in this moment, need a hand – It was a year of layoffs and career redirection for many, which is a time when the harvesting of contribution and goodwill occurs for those who have previously planted seeds.

In the age of hyper-connectedness, it is not possible to be of service to everyone who asks of it from you, so it is critical that as you go into 2024 you consider where you are going to make your social capital deposits. Most people do so within two areas:

  1. People I care about (friends/family)
  2. People who can help me achieve my goals at this moment

Those who use this filter have had a rude awakening in 2023 as they seek help from people they haven’t invested any social capital with (or worse, ignored requests for help in the past couple of years). Don’t forget the rule of reciprocity.

A third point should be:

3. People who are likely able to help me in the future and whom I can be of support to now.*

A case in point – I had no less than 10 former clients or team members who made career changes this year and came to me for introductions or advice – Given the support expressed for me in the past, I will do everything I can to help them achieve their goals in the future – This is the flywheel of mutual success that lasts decades in many cases.

In terms of your response to requests – With limited time you should be very direct: Either immediately schedule time or respectfully apologize for the lack of space in your calendar to be of support. ‘Ghosting’ a request is the WORST thing you can do – Imagine seeing a request for an introduction to a hiring manager in your Linkedin inbox, and scrolling up you see the last message from you was completely ignored… You are unlikely compelled to respond.

The takeaways:

  • Relationships are everything and they should be viewed like plates spinning on a stick. If a plate is wobbling (in need of help), respond.
  • Be direct. If you can’t help someone, say so, don’t ignore them. This is respected and doesn’t injure the relationship.

Leaving corporate-land to strike out on your own

If you have a big title and budget in a major corporation you will be inundated with requests – As tiresome as it is, be gracious because you may be out consulting or building a business in the future – It is then that you will want the support of those folks outside of the corporate world to get a good start. When I carried budget as a VP at Salesforce/Yammer (and others), I was disciplined but respectful with my time, and I am very grateful for the support I subsequently received as I started SaaSy 7 years ago.

A final note: For consultants and dealmakers, don’t dismiss executives who’ve left the corporate sphere. Many return to prominent roles, and their memories of your support (or lack thereof) will endure. People remember how you made them feel.

*Note: I haven’t touched on philanthropic giving of time as it is outside the scope of professional progression. Despite which, every org I am a leader in will have an invitation for people to bond over volunteering.