Relationships are the Real Currency in Business

Every fall, I teach undergrads and graduate students at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism about personal branding and entrepreneurship.


Every fall, I get asked the same question by students:

“What is the top tool we can cultivate for ourselves in business?

Is it strategic thinking? Organizational management? Die-hard commitment?”



My answer: It’s relationships.


After more than two decades as an entrepreneur, I can tell you one that one of the most important things I’ve learned is that the currency of business lies in our relationships. They are fundamentally the key to success.


So it behooves us to get good at being in relationships. And our business relationships are not a different trajectory than our romantic or friendship related ones – they still involve trust, honesty, communication, loyalty, commitment, and weathering the storm.


If you can do one good thing for your business it would be to do a relationship inventory on yourself and find out where you are weak? Even down to the etiquette that helps to build relationships (“Thank you”, “Please” and never cold intro someone on e mail you haven’t cleared first).


Relationships take time, they take nurturing, and if you don’t pay attention to them – yes – they could disappear. Because at the core of this all are humans. People. Fallible, vulnerable, looking to be liked, loved, and success driven people. So take good care to bring your whole self to the game. Also – speaking of games, I know business can be a real mind-fuck at times – but the best relationships I have in work never feel like we are playing games or playing each other for higher currency.


Because we are the currency – and when relationships feel authentic, connected, and cherished, people want to do business together.


Every business transaction from interview to deal closure relies on the dynamic and quality of relationships. Be yourself. Be forthright and honest. Be bold and clear with boundaries. Seek to find relationships with people that get the business done but also leave you feeling hopeful about the world. Sound like a tall order? Perhaps it is. But so is any relationship.


And be prepared when relationships go away. They have to. At times. And learning to let them go with grace – whether exiting a job, cutting ties with a supplier or saying no to someone who is overstepping their asks – you have to end relationships as clearly as you enter them.


That’s not only good business. That’s good life.


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