No Relationship? No Leadership!

Through relationships comes leadership

When we think about leadership, our relationships with others aren’t usually the first thing that jumps to mind.

Instead, the focus might be on creating motivation, pushing a teams to greater heights, or running into a new project with full steam at the head of the pack.

We might also think in terms of personal, self-directed growth. We look at who we are as individuals, what our strengths are, how we can maximize our gifts.

As discussed last week, self-awareness is certainly the first area of focus when it comes to becoming an excellent leader. However, effective leadership works through the relationships we have with others, and that’s the focus of this post.

What leadership without a relationship looks like…

“Why won’t he/she/they listen to me?”

I’m sure we’ve all heard a frustrated peer, friend, colleague or boss talk this way about someone else. They feel that they’re trying their best to be as helpful as they can, but they just can’t get this person to move or change their ways.

As mentioned in the post outlining the core leadership skills, a person in a leadership position who is simply commanding/demanding/bossing their reports around isn’t likely to find much success in their approach. These folks are operating at John C. Maxwell’s first level of leadership – leading “by position.”

Leading by position implies that their is no meaningful human connection between leader and follower, other than that of job title, pay grade or hierarchical structure.

Imagine this scenario:

A shift manager is doing his supervisory rounds of the factory he works at and bumps into a floor worker (whom he can’t remember the name of…) with an untucked shirt. “Fix your uniform!” he barks to the worker as he continues on his rounds.

A day goes by, their paths cross again, but the floor worker still hasn’t tucked in his shirt as requested the day before. The manager warns his report sternly, “come in like that tomorrow and I’ll write you up to HR!” Hearing the threat, the floor employee blinks at his “boss,” and reluctantly adjusts his shirt.

The next day, the floor worker (whose name is Bill by the way!) returns to his post with his uniform shirt properly tucked in. The boss sees him and pays no attention to him whatsoever. “I wonder if John has figured out my name yet,” ponders Bill about his superior.

Fast-forward one more day and Bill shows up with a dirty, untucked shirt, and walks right by his boss when John tries to begin a fresh reprimanding of his subordinate.

As you can imagine, this story doesn’t have a happy ending!

Great relationships lead to greater results

It’s hard not to feel bad for Bill. He’s working away diligently, potentially doing a great job in his area of the factory. John, his boss, only seems to be concerned with how well the factory uniform is being work. It’s hard to say that he cares about much more – he hasn’t even taken the time to get to know the names of his employees!

John is stuck at Level 1 in terms of leadership. He has a job title that says that he can boss people beneath him around. However, he’s getting inconsistent results from his efforts and feels like people aren’t really listening to his commands. He’s absolutely correct in his assessment!

Superiors ordering subordinates around without giving a crap about who they are or how they feel remind me a lot of something called “slavery.” Maybe that’s why so many people don’t appreciate this kind of leadership all that much!

Great leaders build strong relationships with their followers. To whatever extent they can, they seek to know and understand who they’re working with. They express their curiosity and appreciation for their colleagues, which has a powerful effect on their leadership capacity.

Think about your followers’ needs

I can’t think of a lot of people in the world who don’t want to be loved or cared for. We know that being loved is a staple of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We all need to feel a sense of belonging in this world. When leaders reach out to their reports with genuine care for who they are, they fulfill this need, and trust begins to build between both the two parties.

And as trust builds over time, Level 2 leadership principles start to set in. The fulfilled employee gives their boss “permission” to lead them forward, and suddenly there is a new desire to follow and be inspired by the boss.

And yes, you need to know your employee’s names in order for this to happen!

And as trust builds over time, Level 2 leadership principles start to set in. The fulfilled employee gives their boss "permission" to lead them forward, and suddenly there is a new desire to follow and be inspired by the boss.… Click To Tweet

Remember that this principle goes way beyond the work place!

  • A loving couple give one another the permission to share their honest feedback with one another, even if it’s hard to hear. Their strong relationship allows for this.
  • A football coach can bark out teaching points assertively to his players, knowing that at the end of the day, he can reengage his players and ensure that each athlete is supported and cared for.
  • After taking the time to understand our most important needs and concerns, a salesperson asks us if we’d like to take a look at an additional product that may complement our core purchase. Feeling heard and cared for during our original transaction, we take them up on their offer.

Leadership affects us in many different ways, and when people earn our permission as leaders, more action gets taken.

Relationships 101: Creating Rapport

Creating rapport (“building likability”) with someone you’ve just met obviously becomes a pretty important focus given what we’ve just discussed.

It’s not overly hard to create rapport if you are a self-aware, confident individual. (If you wouldn’t call yourself super confident, check out the previous post!) As long as you are at least moderately comfortable in your own skin, all you need to do to get the rapport ball rolling is be curious.

Explore the people who are reporting to you. Get to know their likes and dislikes, their interests, their hopes and fears. Know what makes them excited and what doesn’t. Learn where they want to go in their lives. Ask great questions – people love it when others show interest in them! Stay consistently curious early on, and your relationship will begin to flourish in no time!

Stuck trying to build a relationship that doesn’t seem to be getting stuck at every second turn? Get bolder with your approach and invite them out to lunch, dinner or an activity they may enjoy. Reach out and touch their interests, showing that you have listened carefully to what they love to do the most and that you want to deepen your connection.

Relationships 202: Maintaining Connections

What’s the key to creating strong relationships that last a lifetime? Follow-up!

Regular connection over time piggybacks on all of the initial rapport building you did when you both first met. The more time and effort you put into maintaining your relationships with others, the stronger they get in the long run.

Spend every workday with your followers? You have a golden opportunity to develop meaningful relationships! Interact with certain peers only a handful of times a year? Now things can get a little bit more difficult!

Deepen relationships to enhance leadership
Deepen relationships to enhance your leadership.

Now I’ll come clean and admit this: maintaining ties with others is actually pretty hard for me! It’s hard for a lot of people, and as we get older our list of priorities and commitments tends to grow (in both our personal and professional lives!). The more this list grows, the harder it gets to find the time needed to maintain connections.

Have you ever tried reaching out to someone you haven’t spoken to in ten years? Does it feel a little awkward or what!? Ideally, that’s the feeling you want to avoid when considering the connections you want to nurture in your life.

Regular follow-up with someone, even if it’s just once a year on their birthday, is better than nothing! If you have a key relationship in your life that you want to grow, the recipe for success is simple: remain in touch!

A deep, meaningful bond that’s loaded with trust (and high leadership potential) is what awaits those who put in the effort over time.

Trust can be hard to build, easy to lose

We’ve harped a lot on how important trust is – it’s the glue that keeps people together. It’s what keeps us listening to the other party; without trust we tune wannabe leaders right out of our lives. And as much work as it takes to build the rapport and connection that leads to strong trust, we can’t forget how quickly trust can erode in a relationship.

I remember a time when I temporarily destroyed an important friendship. A close friend of mine and I got into a super dark, uncomfortable place in our relationship and for a while I didn’t think we were ever going to really be friends again. I accept full responsibility for this: I was one who violated our mutual trust.

I made comments that really upset my buddy’s partner, and this in turn led him to think I didn’t support his relationship with her. It was a slippery slope that physically and psychologically disrupted me for months.

What did I learn from all of this?

There is certainly a huge upside to having deep trust with another person, like the ability to share our most honest feelings with them. As we grow closer to someone though, we get better and better glimpses of that person’s core. This is often the most vulnerable part of who they are. Respecting and honouring these vulnerabilities is key here if you want to maintain trust long term.

(This doesn’t mean we start telling white lies and sugar coating how we feel! It means we become more empathetic of where the other is at, and share our thoughts in ways that leaves their dignity intact.)

Is it better to be “liked” or “respected?”

Both are great, but the best of both worlds is to be trusted. Both likability and respect partially come from following the outline for building relationships that was just discussed. As we now know, this is also how trust forms over time.

If you feel like your relationships with followers are strong but you aren’t feeling a whole lot of respect from those around you, then you need to check out the next two articles coming up to learn why you’re falling short in this area!

Leadership potential lies in your relationships

Neglect building connections with the people around you, and you risk destroying your leadership capacity before you even begin to take the reins of your team.

Having close ties with other people is amazing for our own well-being, as well as for our ability to influence others and create positive change around us. It’s a must-have ingredient if we want to reach our ceilings as leaders, and you can start building these key connections right now.

Here’s to you and the amazing relationships you’ll create!

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