In this episode, host John Laurito is joined by a Relationship Economics Advisor, Educator, and Executive Coach, David Nour. Clients call Nour when they want to leverage the value of their greatest off-balance sheet asset: their relationships. They talked about his new book, Curve Benders, and discussed the importance of building and keeping relationships. Nour wants you to realize the missed opportunity when you’re not fully leveraging the soft skill of relationship building.
For 20 years, David Nour helped leading organizations recognize the many quantifiable ways that relationships drive everything: strategy, innovation, growth, and profitability. He speaks 50-60 times a year and have written eleven books, translated into eight languages including best-selling Relationship Economics (Wiley), ConnectAbility (McGraw-Hill), Return on Impact (Josey-Bass), Co-Create (St. Martin’s Press), and the newly released, Curve Benders (Wiley, 2021).
His past work includes engagements with executives at Cisco, HP, Gen Re, Chubb, KPMG, Siemens, Deloitte, Disney, ThyssenKrupp, Marriott, Microsoft, IBM, Equifax, as well as leading industry associations and academic forums.
He serves as an independent director on the boards of two privately-held, venture-backed tech companies, and very much enjoy such roles. On numerous occasions, he moderates senior leadership/board retreats that focus on critical strategic priorities for these organizations.
A native of Iran he immigrated to the United States in 1981 with a suitcase, $100, limited family ties, and no fluency in English. His life since then is completely a function of my ability to develop – and nurture – strong relationships.
Reach out to Nour:
[0:37] Nour’s background and the importance of relationships
[3:47] Networking vs. relationships
[6:11] Relationship currency deposit
[10:22] Being too focused on operations
[14:27] Lookup relationships and reconnect when you travel
[15:24] Diving deeper into Curve Benders
John Over the last two decades, I’ve been on a quest to learn everything I can about leadership obsessed with what makes the best leaders so good after running companies small and large for the last 20 years. Today I speak on stages all across the world to audiences who are interested in that same question. My name’s John Laurito and I’m your host. I invite you to join me on this journey as we explore this topic. What makes the best leaders so good? Welcome to tomorrow’s leader!
John Hey, there, tomorrow’s leaders got a great guess for you today, nor David, nor as I call him, nor is the author of a new book called Curve Benders, and he’s been working with companies and executives for 20 something years around the whole concept of change and innovation, and also building networks and relationships and how to do it and the essential ingredients of being an effective leader. So really, really good stuff. I think you’re going to pick out a lot of good nuggets out of this. And here is Nour.
John All right. Welcome to today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader, where we dove deep on all things leader-related to leaving yourself and leading others. I’m John Ritter, your host today with a great guest. I’ve got David nor otherwise known as nor who is an innovation consultant and the author of the recently released book Curve Benders. Nour, great to have you on the show.
David John, it’s good to be with you.
John Yeah, yeah. I know we were chatting a little bit. I’d love to start off with your story. I love your background. I think it’s great for people to understand this. You came from Iran a hundred dollars in your pocket. You’ve become a great success. Author of 11 books and very, very successful business consulting large, large organizations. Walk us through. I mean, how did you get from that point to where you are now?
David Sure, very kind of. You mentioned that, yeah, I genuinely believe I’m the product of two very distinct cultures. So mom and dad are retired teachers. The Old Shore had an exchange program where we went to Kuwait in seventy-two and they taught Persian literature. Persian history revolution happens. They realized there wouldn’t be a whole lot of future for me in Iran. So they send me here live with an an an uncle. But I hadn’t seen since birth, finished high school here, got my Eagle Scout here and my career has really been, you know, three phases early on was technology, IBM’s silicon graphics, business objects, then consulting the predecessor to TWC and then president of a company than some private equity work.
David And then 20 years ago, I decided to go out on my own. So I hung my own shingles, and I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing clients. But a lot of what I know, what I coach, what I teach and develop in others, it really is that what I believe the best of both cultures from the Middle East, tightly knit loving people, certainly the Western culture that talks a lot about performance, execution, and results.
John I love it. And you talk and teach and write a lot about relationships. Talk a little bit about that. I mean, that was that’s something that I think leaders sometimes don’t necessarily think of that as being one of the core skill sets or competencies or ingredients of being a successful leader. Tell us a little bit about that.
David No question. I’m going to go one step further. They continue to call it a soft skill where we’ve proven quantifiably that it can set leaders apart. So the reason I brought up my background as well is that if you’ve ever worked abroad or lived abroad, you and your audience realized that the rest of the world builds relationships first from which they do business. Unfortunately, as Americans or even Westerners, we’re so focused on the business part, John that if and only if that project with that initiative, with that deal, gets done, then we’ll think about building a relationship.
David Hence, the disconnect when we go into places and people don’t look like us, sound like us, or come from our backgrounds. So I coach leaders, emerging leaders. If you lead with the relationship first, think of it as the arrowhead versus the feathers at the tail end of the arrow. It’s amazing how much you’ll get done much more efficiently and much more impactful. And we’ve proven if you can become intentional, quantifiable, and strategic about those relationships, it can absolutely help you outpace your competitive peers.
John That’s interesting. I think a lot of leaders think about it as “I need to be great at what I do. I need to be effective”. But they almost brush by the relationships and it’s costly.
David Absolutely. Or they talk about networking. And I remind them, networking is one letter away from not working, right? It’s just highly transactional. Whereas if you think about, you know, beyond intellectually understanding that relationships are important, we actually create this idea of relationship economics, which is how do you quantify the investments you make in those relationships? And by the way, social scientists tell us that an average individual can proactively manage about 100 to 150 relationships.
David So million dollar question becomes which ones? And if you believe the notion that it’s an investment, you cannot invest in everybody equally. So how will you then prioritize which relationships you invest in? And a lot of leaders are very myopic of just the ones that are my purview or just the ones that are on my radar. And what you’re missing out on the ones that. Could be incredibly instrumental in your personal and professional growth. It could be incredibly instrumental in helping you identify the next growth trajectory for yourself, your team, and your organization.
John So what does that look like? I mean, is that as simple as saying, Hey, OK, I’m aware of it. I get it now. Do I just need to build the relationship? Or is there a process to it? I mean, is there a way to do it? A way not to do it?
David What’s yeah? I learned years ago that the reason processes work is that they’re predictable and they create a set of repeatable, kind of predictable outcomes. So again, we coach a lot of leaders and identify the end result. We call those relationships centric goals. What’s the outcome you’re after? Nobody builds relationships because they’re bored. What’s the outcome we’re after? Next, we talk about pivotal context. Who do you need, right? Jim Collins talks a lot about this. Whenever we’re faced with a challenge or an opportunity. We often ask, what should we do and how should we do it? We seldom ask enough who questions.
David So what do we need, by the way? For most of your audiences, there are no new challenges. There are no new problems. Only new challenges and problems are the ones you haven’t seen yet. So who do we need? Who’s already seen this movie? Who’s already been in this pitfall you headed for? Next, we talk about your existing relationship back. Who do we know, right? You know a lot more people than you think you do. The problem is, we’re all really bad and nurturing those and sustaining those over some period of time. We tend to think of them as transactional versus transformational. Last but not least, this idea of a relationship currency deposit. How do I invest in existing relationships that will create access to or an opportunity with the relationship? I need to accelerate that outcome. Throw enough time, effort into resources at any challenge will eventually get there. One of the most underdeveloped, underutilized, under-recognized assets of your relationships is their ability to accelerate your ability to get to that end result or that outcome.
John That’s a great point. So when somebody is doing that right and I’m just thinking not only for a CEO or senior-level leader but a mid-level leader or new leader in a large organization, I can see that really played a part because you’ve got an organization of people that can pave the way and help accelerate your progress. And it’s not just one person fight or battle, so to speak. You really need that level of relationships throughout that whole organization.
David Unequivocally, yes. Tell me what leader have you and I’ve ever met who doesn’t need or couldn’t benefit from relationships to accelerate their path? So I often talk about most relationship development. Most networking fails because there’s no purpose, there’s no goal, there’s no plan. So if you become intentional in that journey and I talk about your journey from now to next and not just what you need to accomplish, but what are those relationships, what those relationships, both inside and outside the organization that is going to become rocket boosters attached to a shuttle that either has done that job or know how to do that job or know the pitfalls, you know, probably a lot like your dad. My dad drove into me. Life’s too short to make all the mistakes yourself. How do we learn from the experience of others? How do we learn from their journey to really leverage those never used, but leverage those relationships to get more done more quickly, more intentionally, and really accelerate that path again from now to next?
John And it’s interesting because as somebody who has not always been good at that because there’s a large portion of my leadership career where I was the example of what not to do with that, it was, Hey, let me just figure it out on my own. And I’ve seen on the other side of that, I’ve seen some times where people have reached out, and it’s at a time where they there’s a purpose, there’s an agenda, there’s they need something. And that’s why we’re suddenly trying to forge this relationship. But the smart ones are the ones that are really building those relationships proactively. It’s not when you’re at the point where you need something, OK, this person has something I need, but it’s already having that relationship in place.
David You’re exactly right. So at the moment, I do some advisory work for some private equity firms, and as you can imagine, the whole idea of private equity is to look to invest in underutilized assets, right? So they’re going and there’s a lot of capital sitting on the sideline looking for those good deals. One of the things that they look at is how to top-grade their executives or their leadership team. And I’m often brought in at the tail end of the interview process to really help them discern between two on paper and an experience to equally competent. Let’s just use CFO, right? They’ve got great backgrounds that have great experiences. I interview both.
David And what I’m asking is a lot of relationships, central questions because we’ve built a relationship scorecard and I can, with a high degree of confidence, give that private equity partner a glimpse and what we believe this can. They will be more successful in this job because they don’t have to have all the answers. They know where to go. They have the relationships they can tap into to find out how to do business and former Eastern Bloc or how to, you know, get around the current supply chain issues because they’ve built and they’ve nurtured relationships in very diverse buckets, very diverse environments that are going to help them set themselves apart and by such set the organization apart.
John That’s interesting. And that’s that’s interesting that that is a a lens that you look through in assessing that top level talent. And that’s something that, you know, many top leaders don’t are not connected very well and don’t have that at their fingertips, really.
David And as you alluded to, you’ve done, I’ve done it most of most of our leadership roles. We get very operationally focused head down, but up focused on doing the job. I don’t I don’t want to take anything away from that. The contrary, I always said, if you think of nurture and relationships as yet something else you have to do. John, you’ll never excel at this. Conversely, if you integrate it into everything that you do, it becomes second nature and you build and nurture these amazing relationships. Beyond the reason that’s very transactional, beyond even a season where you work with somebody over something at a time, you start to build fewer but deeper, more meaningful relationships for a lifetime.
David And those relationships become invaluable not just when you need to, but particularly when you need them to really help you solve problems, find resources, get access to previously unattainable, whether it’s capital or investors or partners or. And that’s exactly what great leaders do. One other quick point. The exact same idea applies in emerging leaders. So I often coach that next generation of leaders become develop a competence in your technical area. Develop a preference for the way you build and nurture relationships, because technically I need you to be competent, capable, be able to do the job. But I want to pick you. I want to insist on you. I need Steve or we need Beth, or we need half year on this because the way he or she builds and nurtures relationships. And that’s what’s going to set you apart from everybody else who’s also technically very competent.
John I love it. I’ve got one follow-up question on that. Then I want to talk about your book. So we’ve got an audience, a wide audience here, some of which are that mid-level or entry level leader that might. This may be really resonating with them and they’re saying, OK, but what is this is out of my comfort zone. Like, what do I just pick up the phone or send an email to the CFO or somebody in there and say, Hey, I’d love to just pick your brain? I mean, what’s how do they do it? What’s the next step?
David So no one, no growth ever comes from a place of comfort. So even for the introverts, even for those that genuinely believe this is outside the comfort zone, you have to start somewhere. And I would actually say, you know, go look at existing relationships. I said earlier, one of my biggest assertions, you know more people than you think you do. We’re just really bad at nurturing. Go to and look at your undergrad look at grad school classmates. Get on LinkedIn. Look at some of the people you may have worked with, you know, in the last job with a job previous to that and initially just connect. I would submit John, that everybody has a B.S. radar. So if you show up with an agenda, they’re going to see right through that and you’re going to get the Heisman Trophy, you got to get that pushback of no thanks.
David Conversely, and I love, you know, beginning of every year, beginning of every job we call those triggering events, reach out and use this podcast episode as an excuse. I heard this guy talk about relationships. It dawned on me that I’ve done a terrible job staying in touch with you. I’d love to just reconnect and get caught up on both sides. Listen to what I didn’t say. I want to sell you something I didn’t say. I want something. Let’s just get caught up. My role, my career has evolved. I know yours has. And by the way, if you want to become more interesting, you may have heard this as well become more interested. So when you invest in getting to know them and better understand what they’re doing and where they’re going. By the way, I point-blank asked, What can I do to help you? There’s this natural law in relationships. When you do that, the other side will simply reciprocate and say very kind of you to ask What’s going on with you? What can I do to help you? That is not the time to fumble it.
David That is not the time to go. Right? Glad you asked. Is where I’m going? Here’s what I’m doing. I just love to. I don’t want anything. Don’t need anything from you. I want to stay in touch. I would love to just kind of create a cadence where we keep each other updated. One last tip for your audience. You know, pre-pandemic, I would travel a ton. A lot of professionals will fly there, do their thing, fly home. A, it doesn’t cost that much or hurt you to go a little earlier. Lookup relationships through LinkedIn through whatever other means you may have that you may have in that city. And I reach out and say, Hey John, I’m coming to your town would love to see you for a cup of coffee. We’d love to reconnect over a meal. We’d love to just kind of get caught up. It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other, so use those opportunities to reconnect, to reengage, to really understand where they are in their growth journey and how you can be an asset if you do that authentically. It’s amazing how often they’ll reciprocate.
John That’s a great point. And it’s funny. I was in Boston recently. I reconnected with an old contact and we only got 15 minutes. But I will tell you honestly, it was the most valuable 15 minutes and it was so much better than a phone call or a Zoom meeting or something. So point well-taken. Your most recent book, serve vendors, has been out since summer. Congrats, you’re 11th book. I know a huge success. What are readers going to take away? What are they going to learn from this book?
David Sure. So full disclosure takes me about three to four years to think about research, interview, and write a book. I’m fifty-three. Even pre-pandemic, I was really curious about what the future of work will look like for me in the next decade. So we started to do some research on disruptions. And lo and behold, here comes this global pandemic that not just interrupted the way really disrupted the way we work, but also the way we live and the way we play and the way we give to others. So we got really curious. We researched a ton of different fields from identified 15 forces that we believe are going to create even greater disruption in the next decade than we’ve ever had before. So in face of that constant disruption, John, the assertion is to remain relevant. You’re going to have to accelerate your learning and growth. For most of us, if we’re learning in our jobs, if we’re growing in our jobs is typically that 45 degree kind of linear growth, right? Learn, learn, learn. Maybe at some future point, apply it. And a good example for that will be our undergraduate degrees. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since I’ve visited differential calculus. Right? So we don’t think that linear growth is going to suffice.
David Conversely, I don’t need a four-year degree from M.I.T. I just want to learn how to code. And interestingly enough, I can learn how to code in about 30 days. I can use that to solve a very specific problem. Then I can learn something else, solve the next problem, and I can learn something else next time. So as a daisy chain, these learnings, what I now get is a hockey stick, not that truck ramp. And our research shows the fastest way up. That hockey stick is actually a few really strategic relationships we call curve benders. So imagine that professor at school, imagine that early boss that took you under his or her wings and didn’t just teach you how to do the job. They taught you how to be an empathetic leader, how to be a servant leader, and they leave an indelible imprint on not just what we accomplish, but who we become. So again, those relationships are called curve benders in the book. I created a map on how to meet potential curve benders much more impactful. I also talk about how we can all become curve benders in the lives of others.
John I love that. I’m thinking that exact thing is, you’re talking. I’m thinking, Well, you can benefit from a curve bender and then at some point become one. And that’s a great point. I love it. Well, I can’t wait to get the book. It sounds like a great read. Certainly a lot of takeaways. Where can readers get a hold of it? We’ll put it obviously in the show notes, but where can they go?
David Sure, it’s available on Amazon and you know, anywhere you get books again. The book title is called Curve Benders, How Strategic Relationships Can Power Your Non-linear Growth and the future of work.
John I love it. Excellent. Well, Nour, thanks so much for joining me. This has been fantastic and we’re out of time, but I could talk with you a lot longer. It’s been been a real pleasure to have, you know, the audiences got a lot from you.
David John, I appreciate you having me.
John Yeah, and thank you for joining everybody. We’ve been here with David Nour, innovation consultant and author of the most recent book Curve Benders his 11th. Be sure to check him out will have all the info in the show notes. And as always, like Subscribe, Share this episode! Go down below. Give a five-star review. I appreciate your time today, nor once again, thanks for joining.
David Thanks for having me.
John Thanks for joining us on today’s episode of Tomorrow’s Leader for suggestions or inquiries about having me at your next event or personal coaching. Reach me at John@johnlaurito.com. Once again, that’s John@johnlaurito.com. Thanks, lead on!