Episode 11: Your Relational Competitive Advantage

Your Relational Competitive Advantage

Have you ever considered that your best competitive advantage could be relational?

In an age where information is free and global connectivity puts the brilliance of far flung colleagues and gurus at everyone’s fingertips, how do you gain a competitive advantage?

“Most of us focus on how much we know, but the ability to connect and be present in the midst of tasks is what sets leaders apart.”


– Fast Company article featuring the 5 Gears book

The traditional career advancement model focuses heavily on IQ for “corporate ladder climbing” – that is, it prioritizes hard skills and measured intelligence benchmarks for promotion. However, in this new world where everyone has access to the same information and specialized skills are becoming less exclusive, your greatest asset lies in your ability to connect with people to form lasting, positive relationships. In that sense, the information economy has inadvertently given rise to the relational economy.

The ability to cultivate such relational influence is called “Relational Intelligence.”

Applying the 5 Gears

  1. Understand Where You Get Stuck
  2. Learn to Use Triggers to Help You Shift
  3. Work With Intentionality

Links from Episode 11

Join the 5 Gears Masterclass

Are you constantly in the wrong gear at the wrong time?

Learn the sign language and the life change that is the 5 Gears in the 5 Gears Masterclass.


Applying the Gears

Reflecting on The Gears

Rank Your Gear Order

First, rank them based on which gears you spend the most in to the least time.

Then rank your gears based on which ones you do best, versus which ones you tend to grind the most in transition, handle poorly in general, or just maybe never reach.

What can you learn by comparing these two lists? Are you spending a lot of time in gears that you do not do well in? Or maybe you are avoiding some gears all together?

Think about the frequency and quality of time you spend in each gear.

It’s important that you be completely honest with yourself and remove any sense of pride, aspiration, or shame from your analysis. This will become both your baseline for progress as well as your compass for personal development, gently guiding you to the areas that need the most attention.

Map Your Daily Schedule

For example, do you wake up and go straight into 5th gear – checking emails, making calls, and looking at spreadsheets – before you take time to eat breakfast, see your kids, or start your day in meditation?

Do you spend a little too much time in 3rd gear around the break room, or maybe you need to slip out of 5th gear every now and then for some collaboration 4th gear work time with colleagues to both gain new perspectives and build camaraderie?

5 Gears Reflection Questions

  • Where do I grind gears or get stuck during my transitions into or out of this gear?
  • What’s one thing I can do to make time in this gear more effective

Example: If you need to be better about making time for 5th gear, maybe you need to have a sign on your office door so others will know you are in 5th gear.

Example: If you need help transitioning from 4th gear work mode to 2nd gear with your family after work, find a building or gas station a few miles away from home, and when you pass it, commit to ending work phone calls and switching gears to think about your kids or spouse and what they have been up to for the day or might have coming up.

Full Episode 11 Transcript

In an age where information is free and global connectivity puts the brilliance of far flung colleagues and goobers at everyone’s fingertips, how do you gain a competitive advantage? Have you ever considered that your best competitive advantage could be relational? The traditional career advancement model focuses heavily on Nike for corporate ladder climbing. That is, it prioritizes hard skills and measured intelligence benchmarks for promotion. However, in this new world where everyone has access to the same information and specialized skills are becoming less exclusive, your greatest asset lies in your ability to connect with people to form lasting positive relationships. In that sense, the information economy has inadvertently given rise to the relational economy: the ability to cultivate such relational influences called relational intelligence.

Welcome to the New Generation Leader, Episode 11. Your Relational Competitive Advantage.

Welcome to the New Generation Leader. We’re giving you the tools you need to lead in the digital world. Ready to reach your true potential? Let’s get started.

Welcome to the New Generation Leader Podcast, Episode 11. We are excited to continue this conversation about the foundational components of leadership.

What do we need in our leadership toolbox to make sure we are bringing our best to our business, to our team, to those we lead each and every day? I want to start us off with two seemingly separate threads and then bring us back to relational intelligence based on these two different articles. One, my friend, Steve, posted this article from the Harvard Business Review on LinkedIn that the U. S. Education system isn’t giving students what employers need and here’s the crux of the article – You may or may not agree with the bottom line of this article – but what it comes down to is the difference between information and relationships and really that’s what our episode today is focused on and that’s what I want to focus on out of this article.

Where are you learning information and where are you building relationships? There’s so much in the educational system, it’s a complex system. And with my young kids, I’m thinking about this all of the time: what they’re learning, how they’re being tested and how this is developing them into the people and the future leaders that they will need to be in the world. What, at the crux, we look at what information they’re learning. And so much of the educational system is built on information, information download, information testing. And is that really what we need to be educating people on?

The primary question we can focus on is: is that all that we need to be educating people on? I believe, if we add the relational skills, the relational intelligence into our educational system, that alone, we yield significant results, helping individuals helping students recognize that information is not the end. All be all of their educational journey they are continuing to learn. So as you examine what you learned in your life, what you are continuing to learn, what degrees, certificates, programs, you’ve gone through. One of the recommendations in this article that I think is interesting is: what kinds of micro credentials, badges, programs and certificates are appropriate ways to communicate the information that you need to communicate?

This is part of why we have created the New Generation Leader Mastermind Experience and other short courses is because we want to give people the information, but we want to give it in a bite size, digestible and highly applicable format so that when you need it, you can learn it and you can apply it immediately. So we’ll link to that Harvard Business review article in the show notes and you can dive in.

As I look across our state here in Virginia, they are rebuilding the math curriculum based on some of these questions. It’s a significant question and a debate that’s not going anywhere, but if we focus on it and the solutions, if we build for a brighter tomorrow and make adjustments, not just because we’ve always done it that way, but what do we need now going forward into the future?

Well, here’s the second article comes from Jason Pfeiffer, an entrepreneur. In his interview with Jim Quick and Jim is an author, a coach and he is working with leaders, helping them figure out how to do better. And here’s what Jason’s article focuses on is Jim has identified that leaders, business leaders, entrepreneurs specifically in this case are digesting a lot of information, but how do we apply that?

How do we apply that information that we’re receiving? And there’s a tension here because Jim highlights in this story that if you read an expert piece on, let’s say black holes in another galaxy, but you don’t have the scientific background, are you going to retain the information without understanding the principles of this article? And what Jim is reminding us is that we have so much information coming our way. How are we processing it? How are we keeping it simple in our minds and doing something with it?

But here’s the most powerful part of Jim’s conversation. It’s a powerful tool that we’ll link to and include in the show notes. And it is this:

E x E x S3. P is for purpose. The passion, whatever it is that lights you up, that excites you and gets you out of bed. Passion x Energy x S3.

How you manage your energy, how you manage your time. We’re going to come back to this here in a little bit. simple Small Steps. Passion, energy, simple small steps. We’ve got to break things down into simple, repeatable processes that we can use over and over again.

So that brings us back around to relational competitive advantage. Because here’s this: you have a passion and you have energy. But what are you doing with that? Are you focused on a lot of information and a lot of tasks and a lot of process? Teams and leaders focus on this. They focus on the alignment of their organization. How things are structured, what they’re doing what their output is. When really, there’s one more layer to this. One more layer that we need to dig down to build a foundation and it’s the foundation of relational intelligence. We’ve got to understand the people dynamics of the people who are around us. This looks like soft skills and when we say soft skills, that’s often I feel a hard phrase to use. But these are skills that we can use to build long term, mutually beneficial relationships. And that’s one of these small, simple steps is: changing our mindset. Directing our passion and energy to understand I need people outside of myself to accomplish my goals. And if we can tap into the “who’s” around us, going back to Dan Sullivan and Ben Hardy’s book, “Who, Not How.” If we tap into the “who’s” around us, mutually beneficial relationship, we can build on those passion areas that other people have, perhaps we can collaborate and multiply into something even more significant.

That’s why I love the fact that Jim quick in this interview with Jason Pfeiffer talks about this equation and uses multiplication:

P x E x S3

Purpose x Energy x Small Simple Steps

It’s an exponential growth potential. And when we think about relationships before opportunity. When we think about the relation all framework and connectivity that we have, it requires us to make a mental shift. To take the small, simple steps of first paying attention to the needs and interests of others before ourselves. It means knowing how to be present with the right mindset in the right way depending on, and one of my friends who lived in Italy for a number of years, talks about this powerful distinction between a social environment and a work environment, and for many of us our greatest barrier to true connection with others, whether we are at home with our families, at work with our colleagues, or out and about with friends is an ability to shift into the right mental gear at the right time and so that’s what we want to share with you today is a powerful tool called: The 5 Gears.

Most of us focus on how much we know, but the ability to connect and be present in the midst of tasks is what sets leaders apart. So are you connecting? Are you present with the people around you in the midst of tasks? This is what sets leaders apart. So let’s go through The 5 Gears.

Fifth gear is fast paced – you’re on the interstate highway of productivity: focused, door closed, phone off, slack minimized, you’re not checking email, you’re not responding to anything else, but you are laser-focused on accomplishing something significant, You’re focused, you’re productive.

Then fourth gear is task mode. Task mode is: I am working hard but I’m multitasking. I’m answering phone calls. People are stopping by my office. I’m replying to emails, working through my task list of everything that I need to accomplish today. I might be interrupted, I might be collaborating, I might be in a meeting but I’m I’m getting things done but I’m not as laser-focused on one, major, significant project.

And then third gear, is that great pivot, that great pivot point between productivity and relationship and connection and this is what we call social mode. It’s the casual, social connection activities, events. Maybe it’s the first 10 minutes of your board meeting or team meeting around the boardroom table. Maybe it’s sitting down around the dinner table with your family or connecting with friends in a relational setting. This is the great pivot point because we can start here in third gear and then either shift into productivity and get up into fourth gear of meetings. Or we can shift down into second gear, which is an in depth connection.

This is connect mode. I’m going to connect on a deep level relationally. A sidebar conversation around the boardroom table, connecting with spouse or kids or family member or friend. In a deep connection: a substantial, uninterrupted period of time where you are focused, fully focused, on the person sitting across from you.

And then first gear is again a personal time. Just like 5th gear, it’s focused. Uninterrupted. The door closed are distractions are gone, but instead of being highly productive, first gear is about recharging. Reading, sleeping, meditation, exercise and time outdoors. Maybe it’s a hike, a home improvement project, even if that reinvigorates you working in the garden. How is it that you recharge your battery?

And then our great reverse mode that sometimes we all skip over and reverse is, responsive. Some of our strongest relational capital comes from our sincere apologies and personal accountability. We don’t have all the right answers. We aren’t perfect. How are we clearing the air? And just as with manually shifting car, there are rhythms and routines to our lives. A natural progression like we talked about from third gear, you can shift into productivity and task-focused mentality with those you work with. Or you can shift around the dinner table conversation. But our days also have these powerful gear shifts happening each and every day.

You, ideally, begin your day in first gear. Personal time. Maybe shift into second gear with those closest to you in the morning. But if you shift right out of bed straight into fourth gear, getting into productivity, checking your email and working on your tasks before you’ve even rolled out of bed, you may be setting yourself up for minimizing your competitive advantage. So we’ve got to build up to this, we’ve got to make sure we have the time and space to recharge, to start on the best foot.

And just like that progression happens throughout the day where naturally, when you return home from work or, in our case, over the past year, when you walk back downstairs from the home office or move from the dining room table into the kitchen and the family room, you are shifting gears. And when we mentally shift gears, we have those markers. Maybe it’s the rooms you’re shifting in and out of and moving to and from. Or maybe it’s the gas station you drive past or the coffee shop you visit on the way into work.

It helps you consciously shift your mindset, shift your frame of reference and when you walk into the office or you start a meeting, you look at those spaces and the people around you as markers and reminders that we need to shift into the right gear. We need to be relationally present. Let’s start here.

I had a conversation with the business owner who is driven, pioneering, vision oriented and he is always driving towards what’s next and what’s ahead and how do we build towards this. And his team are relationally oriented, they care deeply about each other. And so as I look at his team and I look at their relational dynamics, this conversation we had jumps out at me and it highlights a simple re-orienting of the gears that can drastically multiply his relational competitive advantage.

And here it is, this was our conversation, he said, “…and then we get to the end of our meeting and I check in on them: how are they, how are they doing, what’s going on in their world, what’s exciting, what’s challenging, what’s happening in their personal lives outside of work?”

And I said, “Here is an insight for you: switch the order of that conversation. Because to scratch the proverbial itch for these team members to tap into their relational connectivity at the outset, helps them go into a meeting, a task oriented conversation with the realization, with the understanding, and the comfort that you are in this for them.”

When we get into these relational conversations and get into these spaces with the people around us, helping them understand and affirming not just the words that we say, but that by our actions, we are for them, we are on their side, we are fighting for their highest possible good. When we do this, we are increasing our relational capacity and when we increase our relational capacity, we increase our relational competitive advantage.

I would try to shift up to shift on to the interstate highway and I would miss 5th gear. And that happens relationally: you know the guy who always shows up to after hour, social gatherings, sometimes this has been me, and can’t seem to drop the shop talk – even when everyone else is clearly trying to relax to have a good time to enjoy their environment, their experience. But this guy keeps talking work.

Or what about the team member who comes flying into the office every morning, barking orders, asking questions before you’ve even had your nine a.m. coffee.

You can’t even get a hello out of either of these people before getting an earful about some task or meeting or project or initiative. These are prime examples of being in the wrong gear at the wrong time. They seem trivial. But when we build these up over time, time after time, when we developed the rhythm and the routine of having these experiences, what we see are missed opportunities to connect and we’re raising barriers against relationships. And if your team doesn’t have relationships, it won’t be aligned to it’s full potential, it won’t be able to build capacity. You won’t execute on what you want to do.

And, unfortunately, these grinding of gears aren’t restricted to the workplace. If you’ve ever come home from work, or you sit down on the couch and your spouse again, completely transparent, this is often me. Your spouse or loved one is on the phone, not talking on the phone, just on their smartphone scrolling social media or checking the latest tweets or headlines. This is a common frustration in so many families and the important opportunity that we have is for us to, as we’ve said, use this language of The 5 Gears as sign language.

So, two stories for you on the personal front. One, my friend Tom, tells this story that he and his adult son had struggled in their relationship. Frankly, Tom says they didn’t have a relationship. And they were constantly in physical space together, but they weren’t connecting relationally and Tom taught his son this tool and immediately they had a sign language. They could hold up the peace sign or two to each other and say “let’s put our phone down phones down, let’s connect, let’s be present.”

Well, I also taught this to my then seven year old, I taught these 5 Gears and she immediately applied them. That’s part of the beauty of this sign language and this understanding, is that we can apply it even at the young age of an elementary schooler.

And she said, “Uh Dad, can you put your phone down?”

I was pushing her on a swing on a Friday afternoon.

“Can you put your phone down? We’re having two time right now.”

And it was a simple gentle reminder. It wasn’t nagging, there was no bitterness. It was simply a reminder of this is our shared language and this is the time that we want to focus on our relationship.

You can do the same thing around the dinner table or the boardroom table and flash a three and remind people this is our three time. This is our time to connect.

This was how my seven year old applied the principle. She said, “So, if I give you 5 time right now to focus on your project…,” in my home office, “…if I close the door and let you focus on this fifth Gear project, then we can have 3 time family time sooner. Is that right?” I said, “Absolutely, spot on. You’ve nailed it.”

And so, immediately, I was able to close the door, flash the 5, say this is my closed door focused time to complete this project. And when I finish that, I can shift to third gear and be present and be relational with our family.

We don’t want to stiff arm anybody, we don’t want to put up walls or barriers. And this is why this is such an incredibly powerful, relational, competitive advantage.

So we’ve got a few questions reflections for you to look at in the show notes. But I’m gonna leave you with three things: understand where you get stuck. Which one of these gears is lowest on your comfort level, on your priority level? Which gear do you struggle to get in? Two, learn to use triggers to help you shift. Understand: when I’m shifting into gear, when I walk past this place, I go past this place or a certain hour comes in my day, I need to downshift;. I need to be present when I’m at home. I need to be productive when I’m at work. What are those triggers that will help you mentally shift into gear?

As I’ve said a few times on the podcast, I have teams and clients who have instituted fifth gear time. They don’t always call it fifth gear time, but they are blocking out those times. Block and tackle to make sure that your day has those triggers, has those reminders to help you shift into the right gear at the right time and then work with intentionality. Make sure each and every day, that you’re spending time recharging in first gear. That you are connecting deeply with those closest to you in second gear, that you are giving the time and the space with your family, with your friends, with your co workers, to connect relationally before you try to accomplish tasks, be present with each other. Get your tasks done, check off that list so it’s not nagging at you, and set aside time to accomplish something significant. Maybe it’s not every day, maybe it’s just sometime this week. But if you work with intentionality, it will help you be more respectful of both your time and your colleagues’ time when you make sure you are able to shift and be fully engaged with them. The people around you will wonder what happened.

And when there’s so much information flying around, we need to make sure that we are bringing our best, each and every day, to the people around us so that we can bring the best out of them when they need us most. Let’s not be all about ourselves. Let’s build that relational connectivity so that we can have a competitive advantage because the world is throwing information at us information overload. Let’s set an example on how to filter through the information and focus on the people around us.

Visit newgenerationleader.com/ll to download the show notes from this episode: Your Relational Competitive Advantage.

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