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Initiate, Inquire, Invest, and Influence

by MOR Associates

Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Sean McDonald of MOR Associates. He may be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

Having worked with thousands of leaders over the past 12 years, I have found that most are keenly aware that they need to invest more time in relationships. Despite recognizing the critical importance to their long-term success, they admit they often feel too busy and consumed by short-term deliverables. Their connections shrink to people linked to their immediate to-do lists.

One tool our program participants and alumni are familiar with in our leadership development work is the 4 I’s: “initiate, inquiry, invest, and influence.”

  • As we lead from where we are, it is up to each of us to initiate relationship building.
  • We must use the power of inquiry to be curious and learn about others, their perspectives, interests, and future directions.
  • We need to build practices of regular investments in key relationships.
  • The outcome of the 4 I’s is not about one person influencing the other. Rather, it’s about the process of building mutual influence. Each initiation, inquiry, and investment strengthens the bond, extends the trust, allows for deeper understanding, and promotes mutual openness toward one another.

Advancing in this area and strengthening intentional relationship-building is possible. We see it all the time. When asked on post-program MOR assessment reports about the value of building relationships in enhancing collaboration, participants consistently report being considerably better, and often a great deal better, in this area.

Reflecting on your current context and mindset, mapping out an achievable vision, and taking at least one step forward are good places to start. MOR likes to wrap this development work around mindset, toolset, and skillset.


1. Awareness Exercise. Reflecting on what obstacles arise when you think about spending more time investing in essential relationships is a valuable exercise. I recommend writing them down and countering each with alternative scenarios or actions. Ask yourself “What if…” even if it feels out of reach. For example:

  • “I don’t have time” → counter scenario exploration → What if I could do this in less time? What if I could invest meaningfully in 15 minutes versus 60? Can I do that? Can I try this?
  • “I don’t know who to connect with” → counter scenario exploration → If I am unsure who to connect with, does someone else? Can I ask my manager who I can start with? What if I found just one person, and if it goes well, I ask them for someone they think I could meet with to learn more?

2. Identity Reflection. There was a time when my kids were little, and stress felt constant. I would repeatedly leave the house without tying my shoes. I recall thinking of that as a badge of how hard I worked and how busy I was. After saying this out loud to a couple of people, I began to think about identity and wondered if I wanted to be the type of person who left the house with their shoes untied. The answer was obvious. I had been so focused on how busy I was that I did not even give myself a chance to counter that from any angle. I DO want to be the type of person who leaves the house with their shoes tied. From that moment forward, I took the extra 30 seconds, even if it meant my kids would be 30 seconds late for school or I was 30 seconds late for work. My mindset shifted, and I committed.

In this way, I appreciate James Clear’s reinforcement of this notion in his book “Atomic Habits,” where he suggests, “Your habits shape your identity, and your identity shapes your habits.” Recognizing this relationship may allow us to increase our intentionality in both areas. It also speaks to the “Why.” Why do we do the things we do? Can we build practices to pause and think about the important stuff more? Not just the thing on the top of the to-do list—that list doesn’t go away.


1. Network Assessment. Review the last couple weeks and note who you have had a one-to-one or meaningful conversation with. This simple exercise will help you determine where your focus is and where it is not.

2. Stakeholder Analysis. What are the top three things you want to accomplish in the year ahead? For each of those areas, draw out a stakeholder analysis that maps, on one axis, from low to high, others who also have an interest in this item you are working on, and on the other axis, from low to high, those who influence this item as well. Work with your team, manager, and others to fill out names over time. This becomes an input to your relationship-building plans.

3. 4 I’s. As described above, putting the 4 I’s into practice (or back into practice) has been a proven path by thousands of your peers. Pick one person from above and initiate.


1. Practices and Habits. How we spend our time matters. We don’t get time back. It is also a reflection on our identity; how we choose to spend our time tells us something about who we are as a leader and a person. As we know, habits guide our everyday actions. Evolving them is challenging work. MOR’s focus on applied learning and behavior change has taught us that it is possible. Understanding habit constructs, elevating focus in a particular area, repeated action, and reflecting on your learning is crucial to this evolution.

2. Start Now. Really. Pick one person and intentionally initiate as soon as you finish reading this insight post.

I will make my conclusion brief so you can get to work. Intentional relationship building is a cornerstone of effective leadership. You can make meaningful strides in this vital area by integrating the 4 I’s into your routine and reflecting on your mindset, toolset, and skillset. A small step forward is still progress—initiate a conversation, inquire with curiosity, invest in the important, and stay open to mutual influence. As you practice these principles, you will find that your relationships strengthen and your capacity to lead and inspire others grows. After all, I suspect you ARE the type of leader that invests in important relationships.

As you consider advancing your intentional relationship-building efforts, where will you benefit most from putting focus?

Last week, we asked where your group is on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) on organizational habits that produce results.

  • 16% said one (lowest).
  • 20% said two.
  • 25% said three.
  • 23% said four.
  • 16% said five (highest).

The spread of our responses suggests this is an area where we have a lot of variability across not only this group of individuals, but also within the institutions we represent. Most of us can intentionally create organizational habits that produce results. How do we do so more consistently? What step could you take this week to pave the way for more substantial results for your organization? After all, we are in our roles to deliver results.