“Trust is the Emotional Bank Account between two people that enables them to have a win-win performance agreement”

Stephen Covey

In his book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”, Stephen Covey shares the powerful principle of the ‘Emotional Bank Account’. The Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor for the relationships we develop and maintain with everyone in our lives. The principle is the same as with our own financial bank accounts. If you think about your own bank account and how you manage it throughout your life, you continually make deposits into the account to ensure it remains ‘in credit’. The accrual of those regular deposits enables you to make withdrawals when needed; to fund your lifestyle, to help you buy the things you want and ultimately turning your wishes and desires into reality.  The Emotional bank account is just the same, except that instead of a financial statement, it’s an emotional/ relational statement.

“A powerful enough metaphor grows it’s own truth”

Matthew Woodring Stover

When you think about the most important relationships in your life, who are the people who matter the most? Your partner/ spouse, your children, siblings, parents, wider family, friends, business colleagues, members of your team, your manager? Anyone else? If you were to request a ‘statement’ of your Emotional Bank Account with each of these people, what would your ‘account balance’ tell you? Are you in ‘credit’ or are you in ‘debt’ with each person? Being in ‘credit’ with people is the key to strong, healthy and happy relationships. If you are ‘overdrawn’ with any of the key people in your life, then getting back to a ‘positive balance’ must become a priority, if you care about the relationship and you want it to improve. Once you become aware, and then ‘intentional’ about maintaining the health of these key relationships in your life, you will find yourself feeling happier and more content. It’s the shift in focus, away from our own needs and towards meeting the needs of the key people in our lives, that gives us a greater sense of satisfaction and makes our personal and working lives more fulfilling.

“Relationships are like investments, if you put nothing into them, you’ll get nothing in return”


So how do you ‘check the balances’ and become more aware of your impact on the people in your key relationships? Most of our interactions with other people are ‘unconscious’, we don’t think about them, we tend to have a ‘feeling’ about it. ‘Check-in’ with your feelings about people and it will reveal your ‘Emotional Bank Account statement’. Becoming more aware of your impact on others is straightforward, you must start to notice how people behave around you. Notice if people are relaxed, confident and happy when you spend time with them, or not. Pay attention to their initial reaction when you walk into the room, or when you greet them. Consider your own feelings towards them, if you notice any resistance, awkwardness or negativity, then the chances are, that you are ‘overdrawn’ in the relationship.

“Invest in great relationships they will pay a lifetime of dividends”

Bill Walsh

When we lead such busy lives it’s easy to become complacent in our relationships. Incredibly, the closer we are to people, the easier it is to overlook them or over-rely on them. We can all too easily assume they will just accept our behaviour and be there to support us regardless. There is nothing more important that the relationships with people close to us, nothing! Making a deliberate effort to nurture those relationships and maintain a healthy positive ‘credit’ in them will transform your ability to connect with, and influence people. If you are a leader, then making deliberate investments in your people will generate a level of motivation, commitment and loyalty from them, than any other action you take. People want to be appreciated more than anything else, and as a leader, your ‘ability’ to make them feel appreciated, is greater than any other person they work with. Your role as a leader carries great responsibility, you have a unique opportunity to inspire, engage and motivate those in your charge. Consciously invest in them and they will repay you with loyalty, commitment and their greatest performance.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together”

Vincent Van Gogh

Creating positive relationships isn’t something that you do overnight, it’s a series of positive acts done consistently over time, with the right intentions. It’s the continuous focus on engagement of your family, friends, colleagues and, most importantly as a leader, your team. The daily practice of ‘seeking’ opportunities to; praise, recognise, listen, understand, compliment and support people is what really makes the difference. Understand when you are making demands that create a ‘withdrawal’ from the Emotional Bank Account of your people. Then make an effort to ‘deposit’ an equal value so you can remain in ‘credit’, it’s an important practice in your relationships. Once you understand this principle and apply it to your relationships, it can strengthen your connections and dramatically improve your level of influence, because people will trust and respect you for your investments in them. A Gallup study (the same company that compiles polls and organisational research) found that employees ‘need’ positive praise at least once a week, otherwise engagement and motivation take a nosedive. It’s so important that the famous “Gallup 12 – Employee Engagement questionnaire” includes the question “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work”. As a leader, proactively seeking out employees to give them genuine praise and/or recognition, is a critical component to creating a positive team culture (the key word here is genuine).

“Give but don’t allow yourself to be used. Love but don’t allow your heart to be abused. Trust but don’t be naïve. Listen to others but don’t lose your own voice”


I have worked with this principle during my time as a coach, leader, friend and as a family member. As with everything in life there is a need for balance. When you consider your relationships, you need to think of them as ‘current’ accounts and not as ‘savings’ accounts. The reason I make this comparison is so that you ensure you maintain a healthy amount of ‘give & take’ in your relationships. Nobody wants to feel ‘taken advantage of’ and you should protect yourself so that this doesn’t happen to you. The reason for building these relationships and making these investments is so that you gain mutual benefit. If you need to request a favour or make a demand, then you have ‘money in the bank’ to be able to do that. Throughout our lives we need help, support and understanding that is given freely and willingly. This is given without question by the people who feel we have sufficiently ‘invested’ in them.  This is part of the natural ‘eb and flow’ of healthy relationships. The next time you make a request of somebody, consider the state of your Emotional Bank Account before you do so, and if necessary, consider how you can make your request whilst maintaining ‘credit’. Make sure you take the opportunity to notice the difference it makes.

As always, I wish you every success in applying this on your own leadership development journey.

Justin Leigh is an accredited Executive Coach and Leadership Mentor. He works with Senior Leaders to develop High Performance organisations. His passion is helping people to become the best they can be. He has worked for large corporations for over 20 years and is experienced in Leadership, Business, Sales & Marketing.

Justin is the Managing Director of Focus4growth Ltd. He can be reached at the following address:

email: [email protected]

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