In the first post of this series, I outlined some of the reasons why it’s so critical to develop relationships with your team. Not only can it help build trust and increase engagement, but it encourages two-way dialog, which can bring great ideas to the surface.
If you’re one of those people I mentioned in the previous post who said you just aren’t good at developing work relationships, or only see this as a way to be more ‘touchy feely’ at work, let me give you a few ideas that will help you start to develop those relationships.
- Take time to learn something personal. IBM used to encourage their sales teams to make sure they ‘noticed the walls’ of their clients. This meant that they wanted them to take the time to learn about the client as a person. There are a number of values that come from this, not the least of which is the knowledge of the client as a person, and not just a contract. But you have to be careful here. You can’t fake this. You need to be genuinely interested in learning something new, seeing how you and your team might connect, and make an honest effort to know them personally. This can be difficult when you feel overworked and pressed for time. But it’s a critical step to building that relationship. And, who knows, you might just find out you have more in common that you knew!
- Make contact when nothing is at stake. Nothing says you don’t care more than only talking to someone when you need something. I have had bosses who would never grace the door of my office until they needed something. It was those leaders who I knew really didn’t care about me as a person, and likely didn’t see me as anything as more than a way to get something done. While ultimately their job was to get something done, I could never develop a relationship with someone who didn’t care about me as a person as well. If you only show up when you need something, you’re sending a strong message, even if that’s not your intent.
- Be genuine. Most of us were taught at one time or another that we had to guard our personal lives if we were going to be an effective leader. You were told that being too ‘close’ with our team only encouraged familiarity and made it hard to get them to do difficult things when you needed to was the likely reason for this bad advice. I’ve lead people for nearly 30 years, and I can tell you that this bit of advice was the worst I ever got. When you try to keep your distance from your team, all you do is make yourself seem more impersonal and uncaring. That, in effect, alienates your team, and puts you in an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. You are human, and people love to work for fellow humans who don’t have it all figured out as well. But, please don’t read this wrong. There are some necessary, and important boundaries you need to keep as a leader, but that boundary should never keep you from being genuine.
- Find something in common… anything. This might fit into some of the other points, but it’s important enough that it needs its own set of thoughts. If you think back to your best friend, what you had in common is what made you close. The same goes for work. If you can find some common interest, hobby or even outside relationship, you can break down artificial barriers much more quickly. My love of fly fishing has led to a number of great relationships outside of the context of work. In other cases, shared interest in mission work has led to stronger relationships with those I work with that might not have existed otherwise. Don’t be afraid to find out what you have in common with your team. It’s the best way to develop a strong relationship. Even a love of fancy socks might be the ticket to improved relationships!
- Get face time. Some people find face to face, personal conversations difficult, and even draining. I have actually had folks tell me that having to hear about their team’s personal lives was ‘sucking the life out of them!’ To avoid this draining feeling, they choose instead to carry on all conversations with their team members via email or text, and rarely take the time to meet with them face to face, or even over the phone. But, as a leader, you can’t influence from a distance. You need to be in personal, and daily contact with your team to ensure they can hear from you directly. If you want to influence, you have to engage.
If you can master some of these techniques and build better relationships with the people you lead, the benefits are tremendous. When you are seen as a ‘real person,’ trust goes up, and those you lead will develop an emotional stake in your success equal to the stake you take in theirs. Also, by developing relationships during normal times, when times get tough, you will be able to draw on these relationships to help you get through. In effect, if you invest in the relationships early and often, you will have created credit that you can draw on in the times when you need it most.