Back in 1981 I began a job as the director of a community based youth program. I was young, 25. Looking back I was influenced by several generous people. With the exception of one, who passed away, I am still in touch with them. Why? They were great at building relationships! They reached out and made people feel comfortable and part of their group. The effect they had on things went far beyond their groups because of this skill.
Think back. Think of a leader, a manager, or a co-worker you admire. Someone who had an impact on your development. Someone who others liked to be around or follow. Chances are that person was great at creating and maintaining relationships.
We need to make people WANT to follow
Dale Carnegie understood the importance of relationships. He wrote, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” And, “There is only one way… to get anybody to do anything. And that is by making the other person want to do it.” Combine these two pieces of advice and you have the beginnings of a plan on how to build relationships.
Some 60 years later, we are still exploring and expanding our understanding and use of relationships. It an essential skill for the leader of today where teamwork, collaboration, shared decision-making and worker buy-in are all valued and encouraged. In his book, “Leading in a Culture of Change,” Michael Fullan lists relationship building as one of the five primary elements to creating and managing effective change. He also notes that “The single factor common to every successful change initiative is that relationships improve.”
Positive relationships make us want to give more-they make us want more in a positive way, always setting the bar higher. They help establish an environment where people want to share information and help each other—it helps create a sense of moral purpose (another of the Fullan’s five primary elements).
Three Strategies for Relationship Building:
Scott Edinger, author of the “The Inspiring Leader” suggests three strategies to help build relationships:
Give people your undivided attention. Look them in the eye when you are speaking with each other. Don’t multi-task or check your phone for messages. Let people know that during that time, no matter how short or long, they have your undivided attention—that what they are saying has importance. That they are important.
Be aware that emotions are contagious. Whether for good or for bad, how you are feeling, your mood, affects those around you—this is especially true when you are the boss. Be aware of this, be aware of your moods and make them work for you and for the people you lead.
Develop your sense of extraversion. If you’re a leader, you simply have to develop the ability to reach out to others, engage them in discussion, and actively provide feedback. If this does not come easy to you, you can practice and plan. Think of different opportunities for relationship building, of specific people. Think what you want to do and say. The more you do it, the easier it will become. The reaction you get from the people to whom you are reaching out will fuel your efforts. It is great feeling creating relationships.
Scott Edinger offers this final bit of advice: “As leaders, by definition, we do our work through other people, and yet how easy it is to lose sight of that, to focus on the amount of work — the tasks, the output, the jobs to be completed. The irony is, the more you focus on the quality of those connections, the greater your quantity of output is likely to be.”