Several years ago I met Sam. He was introduced to me by a friend who had known him through Church and a nonprofit that they both were involved in. Sam came highly recommended as one of the most connected people my friend had ever known.
Sure enough, Sam seemed to know everyone. And this was more than name dropping. It seemed as though he had a good deal of intelligence about the companies and people he was connected with. The breadth and depth of his relationships – especially at the executive level – was nothing short of impressive.
Unfortunately, Sam was also broke. He had recently gone through a near-bankrupt situation and was reeling to support his family. I found it odd that someone with such good connections and apparently solid character had struggled to make a living. What ever happened to “It’s who you know, not what you know”? Wasn’t there a way for Sam to leverage his relationships to find a job – perhaps even in business development?
However, Sam had one fatal flaw. He was more worried about protecting “his assets” than he was about adding value to those people’s lives. He protected his Rolodex with his life and refused to make introductions without a very steep – unreasonable – fee being associated with it.
Sam wasn’t a connector. He was a collector.
I was reminded of this story by a friend who was sharing a recent experience with me about another small firm. This firm, a financial advisor, introduced my friend to a new accountant. Oddly enough, while my friend enjoyed working with the financial advisor and found the accountant to be superb at what they did, he ended up pulling the plug after a few months of working together. I couldn’t understand why.
It turns out that the financial advisor was so worried about protecting his assets that he refused to let the client work directly with the accountant. After an initial small project together under the auspices of the financial advisor, my friend approached the advisor about contracting directly with the accountant on a continual basis for more intensive accounting work. The financial advisor refused, forcing him to subcontract through him despite not adding any value and thus inflating the cost and overhead associated with the relationship. Just a few months later, to everyone’s disappointment, my friend stopped working with both firms, finding the relationship to be too cumbersome and the costs to be too high.
Relationships are valuable, but only if given away. I have found over and over again that being a connector – someone who helps to create powerful and productive relationships between two people that may find value in knowing each other – is a great way to help people and build relationships. On the flip side, hoarding those relationships and trying to monetize them for your own benefit is greedy and utilitarian. It ultimately destroys relationships.
The people you know are not yours. The relationships you have are gifts. Give them away for the benefit for others.