Alliances are tricky. Trickier in real life than on Survivor, even.
Research has come a long way in determining how and why we choose to rely on certain people more than others. But the bottom line is this: Humans naturally want to believe in each other. After all, we’re social creatures. Without social interaction, we wouldn’t survive. That was true in the Stone Age and it’s true now.
So how do you go about finding people who will help you develop and grow? It starts with developing your instincts. This process usually begins as a child. We learn the rules of social interaction on the playground: Who is the bully? Who can be trusted? Who is looking out only for themselves?
But as we age and mature, that instinct isn’t so clear. Maybe the person you should distrust happens to be very charismsatic, and you don’t see through that right away. Maybe the shy person who doesn’t speak much in meetings is actually someone who is willing to go to bat for you. The point is, there are many shades of gray when it comes to people.
The truth is, you’re just going to have to be burned a few times. It’s how we learn. Keep interacting with new people. Learn from them. Develop your people skills.
Here are some tips I’ve developed throughout the years that have helped me grow my inner circle. Use these in your own life.
1. Build a circle of close advisers.
These people know you and your business. They’ve been right beside you through the good times and bad. You also need people who know what they’re talking about and don’t agree with everything you say. You can’t surround yourself with yes people. Groupthink doesn’t bring growth.
These people could also be some you might not expect. For example, let’s say you were just brought on as a high-level leader of a newly acquired company. Instead of replacing everyone you’ll be managing with your own team, take some time to get to know them. After all, they’ve been here longer than you. They know the company. Those could turn into valuable relationships.
Many of the world’s most successful leaders are Type A personalities. They have a drive, tenacity and presence that helps them lead persuasively and efficiently. The downside is that many of these same leaders think they have all of the answers. When a team member approaches with an idea or issue, they’re already thinking about their response before listening to the question.
Develop your listening skills. You never know where a million-dollar idea might come from. Just because the accounting department isn’t on your creative staff doesn’t mean they aren’t creative. Be open to new ideas from unlikely sources.
You can’t surround yourself with yes people. Groupthink doesn’t bring growth.
3. Understand the ramifications.
Being a leader comes with benefits. You’ve put in the hard work, and now you don’t have as much of the daily grind as before. It also comes with the responsibility of 10, 200, 1,000 or more people who are depending on you to make decisions that benefit them as much as the company. They have families, mortgages and student loans.
So when you’re dealing with an issue, listen to your trusted advisers. Get opinions from people you trust. Narrow them down to three options and imagine the ramifications of each of those possible decisions. Understand that not everyone is going to be happy. That’s just life. But before you start lighting fuses, you need to know what could potentially blow up.
4. Understand that not making a decision is a decision.
At the end of the day, you simply have to make more decisions than the rest of your team. That’s why you’re the leader. Obvious answers are easy decisions. Things like replacing office equipment or booking a much-needed vacation don’t require much reflection. But when you’re making the real decisions—downsizing staff, making a risky business decision, ending a negative relationship—those require time and honest reflection.
You might not always make the correct or best decision, but you made a choice. And that’s sometimes more important. When you’re wrong, have the courage and humility to say, “I was wrong.” Be open and honest with your team and that will only serve to build trust.
Finding people who will always be in your corner is never easy. And it doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why you need to constantly be interacting with people—new people. Technology makes it easier to shoot a quick text rather than call or meet face to face. Make a commitment to scheduling in-person meetings, coffee meet-ups and mentoring sessions. Get out there.
Related: How to Build Good Relationships