How Do Leaders Care for the Temperature of Their Relationships?

Have you ever thought about how your relationships with people impact your ability to meet your goals, both personal and professional? Sometimes it’s all about the relationship two people have with one another and nothing to do with knowledge or skill. Think about it. Can you buy a car from someone you just don’t like? Or hire a painter you don’t feel a connection with? Or what about the salesperson who tells you the bathing suit you’re trying on looks amazing when you know it doesn’t? You’ve heard the old saying: “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

Relationships are crucial for leaders in organizations as well, but not every leader pays enough attention to them. When many people are promoted to leadership roles, they tend to focus on what instead of who. In fact, Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel wrote in their well-known book, The Leadership Pipeline, that the three areas where new managers face challenges all boil down to:

  • Defining and assigning work to be done, including communicating with the boss and others about needs or expectations, planning, organizing, choosing people, and delegating
  • Enabling direct reports to do the work by monitoring, coaching, providing feedback, acquiring resources, problem solving, and communicating
  • Building social contracts through establishing relationships with direct reports, bosses, and support groups that facilitate open dialogue and trust

Do you see a pattern here? All three of these challenges have something to do with people and the relationships we build as leaders. In essence, success boils down to how well you can build and foster relationships, both within your team and across the organization, because there is a direct correlation between positive, cooperative, and respectful relationships and getting more work done. So what can we do? How can new leaders cultivate relationships? Below are some best practices.

  • Be a contributor rather than a “boss.” When you grow your relationships to be about making a contribution, you open up the space for transformation to occur. This means engaging people’s hearts and minds around what they’re trying to achieve (a new possibility). While you can impose your will on people’s hands and feet, you can’t win their hearts with force—“being the boss.” Some people will perform under those circumstances, and sometimes extremely well. If your will is strong enough and you can dominate them enough and subject them to your will, you will get results. The problem is that it usually drains energy and commitment from the people involved rather than infuse them with energy. You may get a short-term gain, but in the end you’ll never build a winning team.
  • Make connections with your team members. There are opportunities ALL around you. Really listen to what your team says and show interest. Demonstrate that they have your full attention through the language you use, the actions you take, and the nonverbal communication you use. In other words, put your smartphone away when they’re speaking to you so you can maintain eye contact. Ask questions based on what you heard and lean forward to show that you are genuinely interested in what they say.
  • Show appreciation and recognition. Everyone likes to hear that they’re doing a good job, but for some reason we often forget to say “thank you.” Find opportunities to acknowledge the day-to-day efforts of those around you. Remember, people engage more when they feel appreciated, so become really good at verbally communicating your thanks. Tell people how their efforts benefit the company, the department, etc. And lastly, make it meaningful by including a personal quality. People like to be thanked in different ways. Take the time to find out how they like to receive recognition and then do it!
  • Communicate with clarity and consistency. Communication can make or break relationships. In fact, it’s the actual glue that holds relationships together but is oftentimes overlooked. Make a plan to invest the time in effective communication to ensure that your intent always matches your effect. This means taking time to consider the effect your message will have, where will you have the conversation, who else might be around, and what your relationship is like with the person you are speaking to.
  • Be authentic. Lead with your heart as well as your head. Sometimes it’s not about winning or losing; it’s about making a difference. It’s about releasing the need to be right, appropriate, “on top,” “the boss,” and so on, and instead saying or doing the one thing that will make a difference. It’s about being real and genuine because at the end of the day we’re all human. We’re all trying to obtain our goals.

We live in a fast-paced world where we all have to-do lists a mile long—a world where it’s very easy to forgo the time investment in building and sustaining relationships, which is detrimental to everyone. Relationships are the magic ingredients for success. What will you do to ensure that you focus time on relationships?


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