5 Strategic Outsider Relationships to Fuel Your Leadership

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This is a guest blog post written by Rich Birch. Rich the founder of Unseminary and is a member of my new Speaking Team. You can book Rich to consult with your team or speak at your next event here.

By Rich Birch

Have you ever felt like you are in a leadership echo chamber?

Are you concerned that the people around you might not be able to give you the clearest feedback on your leadership?

Do you find yourself without peers in your organization and aren’t sure where or how to connect with people who can help you grow?

There are natural limitations on the ability of those within your organization to help your leadership achieve new ends. Leaders who continue to reinvent themselves and grow their influence often have a small group of “strategic outsiders” whose role is to move leadership to new ground.

Often the people reporting to the senior leader operate in narrower fields of responsibility and function than you, the one charged with steering the ship. These people offer great support and drive when pushing the organization forward but typically they can’t help the leader grow in their leadership capacities.

I’ve seen this dynamic many times in my role leading in the passenger seat of large, fast-growing churches. The lead pastors I reported to were amazing individuals, but in very real ways they had no peers to assist them with their own development. I found myself encouraging those leaders to develop outside relationships to help them grow!

Everyone wins when the leader is growing.

Everyone wins when the leader is growing. Click To Tweet

I want to encourage you to build strategic outsider relationships in your life. Whether you are the senior leader in your organization or only responsible for a small part of the operation, you need to build external relationships that will challenge and grow you.

Here are 5 strategic relationships you should start developing today!

1. Selected Distance Coaches

The internet is full of people who want to connect with you and help you in your leadership role. My strong advice is to pick a very small group of coaches who can guide your development in a targeted way.

Look for someone who has the proven results you are looking for and follow them closely. Read everything they read. Listen to all the audio they publish. Dig into what they are sharing.

You will get better traction from following 2 to 3 people closely than you will from sampling a wide variety of sources.

You might need to change up the people you follow from time to time and that is okay! Your needs as a leader should be changing as you grow. But rather than just adding in more voices to listen to, drop the voices you’ve been considering as your needs shift and develop.

Take Carey for instance. He has a wealth of knowledge on communication, leading through change, and personal life management. You should dive deep into everything he has produced on those topical areas where you want to learn.

For example, struggling to know how to best manage your time?

Read everything he’s written on this blog about time management.
Then take his free email course designed to help with this area.
Finally, dive headlong into his course The High Impact Leader.

Stop sampling ideas from a wide variety; instead, be selective and dig into online distance coaches that are where you want to be. Draw out of their knowledge and experience what you need to push yourself forward.

Stop sampling ideas from a wide variety; instead, be selective and dig into online distance coaches that are where you want to be. Click To Tweet

2. Civic Leaders

Politicians often get a bad rap. However, the average local politician gets involved in politics because they want to help their community. They’ve chosen to enter public service because they have a vision for their community to be so much better.

These political leaders have a wide variety of relationships. They are very aware of what is happening in the community and can be a huge resource for you as you grow in your own leadership capabilities.

They have to balance a wide variety of constituent needs and that skill alone can be a great thing to watch up close!

If you don’t already have a relational connection with a civic leader, just reach out to one! Explain to them that you lead an organization in town and that you are looking to connect with other leaders in the community. Let them know right up front that you aren’t looking to get anything from them (aside from the knowledge of their experiences, of course).

When you do actually get the chance to connect, ask them how your organization could better serve your community and then just listen.

Don’t bring your complaints about one issue or another but come asking what you can do to help them. And then see if you can do it.

In my experience, as you begin to be seen as a trusted partner in the community you will naturally be drawn into a closer orbit with these leaders and have the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

3. Other Marketplace Leaders

Let me speak directly to the church leaders who are reading this for a moment.

We need to go out of our way to connect with those in our churches who lead in other businesses. We’re in this weird spot of always asking people to come to our place of employment.

However, when was the last time you asked someone in your church if you could visit them at their workplace?

Visiting another leader “on their turf” shows your respect for them and for the work they do.

You’d be surprised how many people will respond positively if you ask for a tour of their business or workplace. More than likely they will swell with pride and enthusiasm about the work they are investing their time and lives in.

What do you talk about when you connect with a leader in another marketplace? Get them talking about what they are learning and then listen. They will likely offer a wealth of insights into leadership that you could potentially apply to your own role.

Here are a few questions you could ask to get the conversation started:

● What is the greatest pain point in your organization?
● How does the future look for you? What’s coming up for you?
● What are you learning about attracting new clients?
● When you think about what I do, are there any lessons you’ve learned in your area of work that you think that I could apply to mine?

What do you talk about when you connect with a leader in another marketplace? Get them talking about what they are learning and then listen. Click To Tweet

4. A Trusted Counselor

If you find yourself in a leadership position of any kind, you owe it yourself (and the people you lead) to connect with a trusted counselor.

Leadership is full of unseen pressures that can mess with your inner life. Imposter syndrome sneaks up and tells you all kinds of lies.

The drive to succeed can sometimes come from a less than healthy spot and might take you to even unhealthier places. Some leaders have a crippling fear of losing everything which can hinder so much of what they do.

Reaching out to a trusted counselor is a sign of strength.

It communicates to your people that you take your role seriously enough to do the tough inner work required for you to grow and develop as an individual as well as a leader. It also communicates that you want your people to consider their own mental health in the midst of their own spheres of life and leadership.

If you don’t know where to start when looking for a counselor, ask that friend of yours that talks so positively about theirs. (We all have that friend.) Even just asking them how they found their counselor, not necessarily for a direct reference to go to theirs, is a step in the right direction.

A good counseling relationship takes time. It isn’t a magic pill that you swallow in one session. Take time to build a solid relationship and it will pay dividends in your life for years to come.

Reaching out to a trusted counselor is a sign of strength. Click To Tweet

5. Peers from Outside Your Community

Who are the people in your life that do what you do but in another context?

Do you have someone you could call who “knows” what you are going through but isn’t in your backyard?

Over the years, I’ve found it so valuable to have trusted peers across the country who I can call on from time to time when I’m stuck with one thing or another. These reciprocal relationships are based on us encouraging one another and seeking the best for each other.

There have been many key moments during my time in leadership where the advice received from a peer has been life-changing. I’m so thankful for the people I can text or call about tough or tricky situations!

If you don’t have relationships like these in your life, then your leadership is missing an edge.

How do you build these sorts of relationships?

There is nothing like meeting face to face with people in similar roles to talk through what we’re learning and what we’re wrestling with. Conferences are okay for this, but I find smaller, more intimate gatherings are so much better for conversations.

You could call up an acquaintance at an organization like yours that is just a little bit farther along in their development and ask if you could shadow them for a few days. I’ve done that before, and those relationships have blossomed into some of my closest professional friendships.

You could also join a mastermind retreat. I’ll be helping host one this fall for Executive Pastors in Austin, Texas.

These events are based around helping each other in areas where we’re stuck, deep diving into a topic or two of interest to the group and having some fun together. These types of events are also a microwave oven for developing these close peer relationships that are so crucial for leadership.

If you don’t have relationships like these in your life, then your leadership is missing an edge. Click To Tweet

Which strategic outsiders do you most need to add to your circle?

Dig your well before you’re thirsty. This is a perfect time to expand your network. There will come a day when one of these relationships will make a pivotal difference in your life and leadership. However, if you don’t start building these relationships soon, then you will miss out on the benefit of having them in your life long-term!

Dig your well before you're thirsty. Click To Tweet

You need people outside of your organization to help you grow and develop. As you consider this list of people, which one of them grabs your attention the most? How can you take action this week to reach out to a strategic outsider?

Can't find the time to get it all done? Become a high-impact leader without burning out (or sacrificing yourself).

Without a new strategy and approach, it's easy to continue to:

  • Sacrifice family on the altar of work
  • Overcommit and underdeliver
  • Have no time for what you actually want to do
  • Struggle to get time off to refuel and relax

Worst of all, other people—other tasks, jobs, and projects—will continue to hijack your life.

It’s time to change that by implementing a strategy that works.

At Your Best is a proven strategy to get your time, energy, and priorities working in your favor. It's my step-by-step online course that will help you overcome stress, find a sustainable pace without losing impact, and be far more productive at work.

50,000+ leaders have used the At Your Best strategy to escape the stress spiral and finally do what they want to do—grow their organizations, advance their careers, launch new ventures, be far more present at home, and take regular time off.

Wow! I didn’t realize I was in desperate need of this message and system in my life and business. 

This message so profoundly impacted us, that we named our annual company theme, “At Our Best,” using Carey’s system and resources to strengthen our culture and make health a priority this year.”

Sean CannellFounder and CEO, Think Media

Whatever you choose to do with it is up to you. Join today for instant access.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.