Career growth: should I leverage my relationships?

This week, following up on habits that stop women from getting to the top, Patrycja explores relationships in the context of career progression, and the question we all ask ourselves: can I leverage relationships I built in order to grow my career?

By Patrycja Riera, CEO, Inclusionem

Even though we hear and can see research evidence that women are really good at connecting, they don’t always leverage their relationships to get ahead in the workplace.

For many of us, building strong relationships is emotionally and personally rewarding. The reasons might differ, sometimes we don’t want our connections to feel used, we don’t want to be seen as playing a political game, or simply feel that our relationship should not include self interest. 

A rat race

rat race

Many of us, from the first day at work, try to keep our heads down to understand every aspect of the job. We avoid asking questions or seeking expertise from more experienced colleagues as we often are undergoing an impostor syndrome (it’s the idea that you are where you are by chance, not because of your talent or qualifications), hoping no one will notice we shouldn’t be there in the first place.

But that’s not working, is it?

Expertise is important, but it is just one way of making oneself credible. Other aspects of the corporate life matter as much, visibility being one of them. It is therefore important to connect with the right people, to get it from day one.

And how often have you found yourself (I know I did many times) pleasing and being nice to everybody, afraid to disappoint, ask, or of being a burden to somebody. This type of behavior is time consuming and often kills careers. 

Building mutually beneficial relationships

The research shows that ability to empathize with, connect and influence others is a very important skill in order to succeed in business. What we have seen time and time again in different industries, jobs and geographies, is that women tend to know how to build relationships but not how to use them.

We are often mindful of the importance of healthy relationships, but never invest time to really think through the mutual value in relationships and how to achieve it.

Keys to strengthen the use of your relationships

Remember that no matter what you do, you need to make sure that you are intentional about what you want to achieve. You need to know yourself and you need to know your goals, and how to articulate this information clearly and with enthusiasm

Ask people to connect you to higher ups

The stronger your relationship, the more insights you have to your company’s department’s team future. Make a personal KPI to network and build relationships within the company, ask for an introduction, to be part of projects or meetings where more senior people are present.

This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your eagerness, ideas and high performance to those in senior positions and gives you good visibility and access to company insights.  

Become more intentional about your relationships

Be clear about the purpose of your relationship. Identify the people who can actually take you to the next level or those you would enjoy working with. Relations are based on trust and it is important how you connect and relate to the other person. Don’t leave it hanging or let it be!

It is ok to establish a clear intent in a relationship and why it is beneficial for both to have such relationship. This provides clarity and foundation that you can build on, which is important especially when difficult times come.

For this to succeed, you need to be very clear about what your goals are and where you are going, as this will allow you to connect and leverage the right relationships. 

Remember that people can benefit from you and vice versa


I often think “what can I give to this person? She/he is so much more senior, got it all figured out?”

Actually, each one of us has different strengths, passions and skills that are unique to us and can be an advantage to others.  For example, you might offer some support that is unique and unalike anything that can contribute positively to a project, team or company. 

In my case, language skills, speaking fluently three languages, have often opened doors for me to work on projects and with teams that I normally would not.

Another recent example, I communicated clearly to my mentor what my goals for this year are, and she identified an opportunity where I could contribute and develop my skills and at the same time support her with a project.

Find mentors and sponsors

mentor and mentees

Women must advocate for themselves if they want to move their careers forward, but they can’t do it alone.  If they want to succeed, they need allies and those who can champion and help them to get where they want to be. This is why we need mentors and sponsors. If we don’t access those relationships, we might feel stuck and missing out what’s possible.

We need those relationships to gain different perspectives, receive advice, get connected. But mostly, we need it so we can make it when we get there.

And let me add, it’s ok to have different mentors and sponsors at the same time. Just make sure you keep track on the goals and who is helping you with what.

A common skill to many successful careers

keys to success

Succeeding alone is rare and unstainable. Leveraging your relationships is a key and strategic career skill that, even though sometimes might feel uncomfortable, will pay outsize rewards.

Successful leaders, men and women, know how to use it well, not only for career progression but also to achieve results in business. There might be people that are mentoring you or sponsoring you for a season and then it’s time to move forward.

As much as all I wrote might sound transactional, I am not saying you should not build great transformational relationships. What I am saying is, it might be time to learn to develop more strategic relationships that with your hard work can take you where you want to go. And when done right, they will be transformational too.

Connect with Patrycja on Linkedin