I’ve been floating an idea recently about the concept of “relationship capital.” I honestly want to know if you think I’m nuts or if the idea resonates.
Let me start by explaining what I mean by “relationship capital” and what you do with it.
Someone, usually in a significantly more powerful/senior position to you, decides to put his reputation on the line for you.
- Hiring you when you don’t have the experience and/or someone else isn’t a fan.
- Giving you opportunities to work on projects that are outside of your usual scope of responsibility.
- Speaking on your behalf in a room that you’re not in.
- Pushing someone forward rather than just opening the door.
This is beyond mentoring. This is someone making a bet; a bet on you and your future capabilities.
A fine example is when Marilyn Monroe demanded that Ella Fitzgerald be booked to sing at a large jazz club. If done, Marilyn would take a table front and center every night. Monroe’s superstar status would not only bring publicity and customers to the club but elevate Fitzgerald’s career.
Now that’s an impressive example of a woman using her relationship capital on another woman. We all know of Fitzgerald’s talent, so for Monroe to do this was a pretty good bet to make. But make it she did.
This anecdote got me thinking: Do women, in general, spend their relationship capital as much as men? I hate to say this ladies, but I’m not sure that we do. Do women mentor? Yes, absolutely. Have I seen women give phenomenal advice? All the time. Do women open their Rolodex to make connections? I’ve lost count of the example of this.
But put our reputation on the line, take a risk on someone that isn’t easily justifiable, just because you want it that way? I had a harder time coming up with as many examples of women spending their relationship capital as men.
Which begs the question - why is this so?
The easy answer is that men generally have more powerful positions and therefore can spend more liberally. Perhaps is it because I’ve spent more time in traditionally male-dominated workplaces, so maybe my experiences are limited and a little skewed.
Or is it practice taking the risk? Or confidence in your place at the table? Or believing you have relationship capital to spend to begin with? Maybe a combination of all of these things.
I opened this article with a question: Do you think I’m nuts or did this idea resonate with you?
I’m serious. I want to hear if you agree or if you think I’m missing something. And bonus, we all have relationship capital we can spend. It’s one of those accounts that weirdly gets bigger the more you spend it. So watch out bright, talented people - I have money in my pocket, and I’m itching to spend it!
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