Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal development, personal productivity, or entrepreneurship book.

who's got your backIt’s no secret to long-time readers of The Simple Dollar that I loved Keith Ferrazzi’s first book Never Eat Alone. I thought it was a brilliant discussion of how to network ethically in the modern world by building real, valuable relationships with people centered on giving of yourself to others. Even though I’m an introvert, I’ve taken many of the principles in Never Eat Alone to heart in my own real-world experiences – and online as well.

While Never Eat Alone does a great job of outlining how to build relationships with a large group of people, it’s fairly self-evident that there’s a lot of value in building particularly strong relationships with a small group of people. These are people you trust and who trust you, wise and insightful and willing to spend significant time with you because you make each other better. Mentors, advisors, friends – all of those titles apply. Most people are lucky if they find a handful of such people in their lives.

Finding and cultivating this inner circle is what Who’s Got Your Back focuses on. How do you find these core people? What traits do you have that will click well with others, and how do you find the traits that will click well with you? How do you maintain relationships with them over the very long haul?

I’m a

huge believer in the power of mentors, and I’ve discussed techniques for finding a good mentor in the past. Let’s dig in and see what Ferrazzi has to say on the subject.

One: Who’s Got Your Back
Ferrazzi argues that the need for an inner circle of mentors, advisors, and friends that you trust and respect is something that almost everyone in the modern world strives for – if that wasn’t true, why would things like “life coaching” be such a huge multi-billion dollar industry? Even more disturbing, according to a 2006 study in American Sociological Review, the average person has only two confidants, and 25% of people have none at all. In a ever more complex world, confidants and advisors are more important than ever before – yet people have fewer of them.

Ferrazzi then makes the case for how valuable “lifeline” relationships are, focusing on four ways that such relationships are critical:

1. To help us identify what success truly means for us, including our long-term career plans.
2. To help us figure out the most robust plan possible to get there, through short-term goals and strategies that would tie us in knots if we tried to go it alone.
3. To help us identify what we need to stop doing to move forward in our lives. I’m referring to the things we all do that hold us back from achieving the success we deserve.
4. To have people around us committed to ensuring that we sustain change so that we can transform our lives from good to great.

I know that in my own life, my chief “lifeline” relationship is with my wife, and I constantly talk to her about the things above. It helps more than you can ever know and often guides me towards difficult decisions that I might “chicken out” on if I did them alone.

Two: The Four Mind-Sets
Ferrazzi identifies four “mindsets” – more like traits, actually – that, when cultivated, provide the foundation for building such lasting “lifeline” relationships.

Generosity You have to be willing to give sincerely of yourself without expecting a thing in return. Generosity is the foundation of trust, and trust is what makes such relationships work.

Vulnerability You have to be willing to be vulnerable. Can you move outside your safety zone? Can you accept criticism from others?

Candor You have to be willing to be totally honest with others. If something’s on your mind, you shouldn’t hold it back. It might be valuable.

Accountability You have to be willing to follow through on the promises you make to others.

These four traits are vital for building lifeline relationships – ones where you can bounce ideas freely, receive criticism, and truly grow as a person as well as in your ideas and goals. Others that you build such relationships with must have such traits as well – without them, the relationship is not going to succeed over the long haul.

Three: Building Your Dream Team
So how exactly do you build this team? Ferrazzi identifies a nine step plan for finding these people, cultivating the relationships, and maximizing their value in your life.

Step One: Articulate Your Vision This means soul searching. What do you really want in life? What are your big goals and dreams? What are your interests and passions? What do you really value? For me, my values center around my family and my writing, so if I were looking for people for my own inner circle, I’d want someone that valued family and had some insight into creative careers.

Step Two: Find Your Lifeline Relationships Look throughout your life – your work, your extracurricular activities, your personal life – and identify people who match up at least somewhat with what you want in life. Get to know that person a little and find out if they actually exhibit those valuable traits. Are they committed? Do they have some know-how – knowledge of what they’re talking about? Do you get along well with them? Are they curious by nature? If you see a lot of these factors, you’ve got someone very promising.

Step Three: Practice the Art of the Long Slow Dinner Gradually get to know a potential lifeline quite well. Have a lot of meetings with them – lunches, dinners, coffee. Talk about anything and everything. Feel them out. If it’s right, you’ll know it – if it’s not, don’t be afraid to move on and try again.

Step Four: Broaden Your Goal-Setting Strategy The first real way to get your lifeline friends involved is to talk about the goals you have – and the goals they have. Offer candid input on their goals, and invite (and accept) their candid comments on your own goals. Develop new goals together – and talk about how you can get there.

Step Five: Create Your Personal Success Wheel The “personal success wheel” is a wordy way of describing the key areas in your life that you want to succeed in. Financial success, spirituality, giving back, physical wellness, intellectual stimulation, deep relationships, and professional growth are areas that Ferrazzi mentions that are common to most people. Ask yourself what you’re doing in each of those areas – and bounce your thoughts off of those people in your lifeline. Similarly, encourage them to do the same – think of their core areas, ask themselves what they’re doing in each, and bounce their thoughts off of you.

Step Six: Learn to Fight! In other words, you have to be able to (and be willing to) diasgree with people in your inner circle. More importantly, you have to be able to debate ideas without making it personal – Ferrazzi calls this “sparring.” The key is realizing right off the bat that you’re just comparing and analyzing ideas, not attacking each other, and you can both grow from this process.

Step Seven: Diagnose your Weaknesses Introspection is a key part of all of this. You have to be able to not only figure out your weaknesses (and Ferrazzi gives a lot of tips for this), but be able to reveal and discuss those weaknesses with others, along with strategies for overcoming that weakness (or turning that weakness into a strength).

Step Eight: Commit to Improvement Steps four through seven are going to give you constant ideas on how to improve your life (and, along the way, give the others in those relationships with you tons of ideas as well). In order to actually get something out of it, though, you have to be willing to commit to improving yourself. You need to take at least some of those ideas and actually implement them, making yourself better, or else you come off as very insincere. Doing is much more valuable than talking.

Step Nine: Fake It Till You Make It – Then Make It Stick Ferrazzi’s big point here is that practice and repetition are vital. All of the steps above are ones that you should be constantly repeating. All of the ideas generated should constantly be worked on. They should just become a part of your life – and they easily can. Why? Because those “lifeline” friends will eventually become your closest friends – the foundation of your life.

Four: Make It Your Life
The final portion of Who’s Got Your Back picks up where the final point leaves off. The ideas in the book aren’t just a one time process, but elements of a successful life. Ferrazzi offers several worthwhile points to cap off those ideas – here are three.

A group of like-minded people is a great place to start. If you don’t know where to start, look for an already-existing group of like-minded people that share your interests. If you’re an entrepreneur, check out local small business associations. If you’re a parent, look for PTA meetings. Find people that share your passions and you’ll have a great group to start with.

Forming an actual group can be quite scary. Ferrazzi suggests several approaches, but the real foundation is the people. Your best bet to make a group work is to try to cultivate the relationships between people you have lifeline relationships with. If you can get, say, four people where every person has a one-on-one relationship of this kind, that group will be invaluable to all of you.

Suggestions are invaluable. If you have an out-of-the-blue idea that really fits a person you have a lifeline relationship with, write it down and treat it with the weight you would treat a great idea for yourself. If you’re doing this for each other, it’s like having two or three or four minds out there trying to come up with great ideas to push you farther.

Is Who’s Got Your Back Worth Reading?
To put it simply, I loved this book, too. The material in here applies well to virtually everyone, particularly people who are somewhat introverted who may need that extra push to build strong life relationships (I’d put myself in that group). What appeals to me, as with Never Eat Alone, is that everything is underlined with giving of yourself. Paying it forward is a strategy that has never, ever failed me in life.

This one is already on my re-read pile. I plan to let the contents of it sink in for a while, then give it another read-through in a few months.

My only criticism is similar to the criticism I had with Never Eat Alone, but it’s one that I understand. Ferrazzi has a tendency to name-drop in places. My interpretation of it is that Ferrazzi is actually much like myself – he’s an introvert who has to work on being an extrovert, and being able to drop those names makes it easier. I do a similar thing, to be quite honest – I tend to talk in big bursts when I don’t know someone well. I’ll be quiet for half an hour, then drop a two minute wall of words. It’s something that comes up as a result of my natural introversion – and it’s something I’m aware of and try to work on.

Put this on your Amazon wish list or your library list. This one’s really good.

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