It's Not Personal, It's Business

"It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."

Sorry, Michael Corleone. You're wrong. And so are all the corporate phonies who cite this pseudo-proverb from The Godfather as an excuse to avoid taking a genuine and substantial interest in the people around them.

Too often, we gloss over the importance of depth, sincerity and trust in our business relationships simply because we're too busy. We think our time is better spent "getting stuff done."

The inane flaw in this thinking is that support from the right people makes our work easier, more productive, and more fulfilling. I was reminded of this while reading a new book by David Pottruck, a veteran executive who has established dozens of meaningful connections over the course of his storied career.

"Stacking the Deck" is about leading transformational change, and as Dave points out, you can't go it alone. You need a team, but it's not as simple as putting a bunch of high performers with the right skills in a room and telling them to solve a problem. That way madness lies.

Successful leaders spend time building rapport, empathy and, most of all, trust among team members -- and it doesn't happen overnight. Executives with ambitious agendas are often loathe (as Dave admits he once was) to "waste time" on activities like offsites where people can get to know each other by talking about their personal stories, passions and dreams.

But this kind of interaction is critical, as Dave discovered: "The trust we need for driving change will come when we understand each other's motivations, the why behind what we do."

I know Dave knows what he's talking about--he's one of my mentors. We're both busy, but we've built a strong relationship, even though we live and work in two different cities, by actually spending time with each other. Whether it's on the ski slopes, at a HighTower retreat or over a quick lunch or glass of wine when we find ourselves in the same town, face time is central to our relationship.

Dave doesn't just know my work, he knows me. And that's what makes his counsel so valuable.

Of course, we all know that we're supposed to "network" and "collaborate," and technology makes it easy to check that box on the to-do list. But emails, text messages and conference calls alone aren't enough to build and nurture relationships.

Technology can do a lot of great things, but it can't treat you like a human being. Even successful mobile app companies like Warby Parker and Rent the Runway understand this, opening brick-and-mortar stores to provide customers with that all-important "personal touch" whether they're shopping for glasses or evening wear.

Not convinced? When something goes wrong with your cable provider or there's an error on your credit card statement, do you call the 1-800 number and then mash "0" until you've escaped the automated menu and connected with a live, human voice?

It's our nature to seek out human interaction even during superficial exchanges.

The value of investing personally in our business relationships, both with colleagues and clients, is that it gives us a deeper understanding of how we all came together, and how we can use our strengths to accomplish clear organizational goals. If that's not mission critical for a business, then it's probably not a business that will be around for long.