If you were to think about your relationship with your best friend, you could likely identify several characteristics that make it successful. Without a doubt, the relationship was formed around one of a number of important factors such as a shared experience, a common interest, or even just a long period of interaction. But when it comes to work, we don’t often think of others this way. We want to distance ourselves from our team, and don’t want to risk the chance that a deeper relationship will impact our ability to lead.
While we might have forged a strong tie with someone after a particularly tough assignment, or shared an office with someone for many years, we don’t necessarily think of them as a ‘best friend’ in the typical sense of the word. And if you are a leader, you are likely even more distanced from those you lead because you need to maintain your objectivity and professional relationship. But if you really want to influence those around you, you need to be able to develop a strong and lasting relationship.
Some of you are likely thinking that you just aren’t that type of leader. You like your team, but when the word relationship comes out, it immediately makes you think of the uncomfortable offsite meeting you had where you had to play some silly game, or share something deeply personal with the team. That’s not the kind of relationship building I’m referring to (but if you are one of those folks, don’t discount the importance of the occasional offsite as well).
So how can having good relationships do for you as a leader? Besides just making you a better person, there are a number of benefits to taking the time to build a strong relationship with your team.
- It builds trust. If you are going to really have influence on others, they have to trust you first, and foremost. Without trust, they might do what you are asking, but it will be for the wrong reasons. They might follow along out of fear (of losing their job, of being ostracized, or being embarrassed) or obligation, but their heart won’t be in it, and they will always be wondering what’s in it for them. Developing a relationship develops trust, and trust will make people follow you in situations where they might not have otherwise.
- It makes you human. As a leader, it’s easy to be the object of a lot of derision and complaint. Your motives are often suspect to those who aren’t leaders, and there is a sense that everything you do is only to help yourself, your career and your organization. While these are important things to be concerned with, we all know as leaders that we really do care about more than just the business. You wouldn’t have gotten to where you are if that wasn’t the case. But, if you can develop a genuine relationship with your team, they will quickly lose the sense of distrust and know that you do what you do for the good of everyone, not just what benefits you.
- It encourages two-way dialog. Early in my career, I wasn’t sure that I had leaders who cared what I thought, or valued my opinions. Looking back, I see this had a lot to do with my own perceptions, but those perceptions were based on my experiences. I had a couple of great leaders in my life, but the times when I didn’t feel like the leader cared were those times when they also didn’t seem to want to develop a relationship with me. I wasn’t looking for a deep and personal relationship, but would have valued their opinion and advice. That wasn’t forthcoming.
- It improves employee engagement. Without a doubt, employee engagement is one of the most misunderstood, yet talked about topics. Companies spend millions of dollars surveying their employees, trying to understand what they need to do to keep their employees happy, fulfilled and ultimately engaged. Yet they spend much less on training leaders how to effectively develop relationships with their direct reports. With only 32 percent of employees engaged according to the most recent Gallup survey (defined as employees who work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company), employee engagement is a strategic imperative to the business wellbeing. But according to a recent study conducted by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training, the relationship with immediate supervisor was the number one contributor to overall employee engagement, or dis-engagement. Relationships trump benefits and pay every day!
- It promotes safety. In the study mentioned above, when Gallup looked at what made an effective leader in an organization, they found that by developing a close relationship with their team, the leader was actually promoting a sense of safety in their team. Just like you, when someone feels like they can speak their mind, their opinions will be valued, and they can experiment and share information, they are more likely to feel engaged at work. By developing a relationship with your team, you are making them feel secure, and that will reap big rewards in the long term.
Of all the skills a leader needs to be successful – including communication and the ability to see the big picture – relationship building is one of the most critical. It is a skill that will serve both you and your team during the toughest times.
In my next post, I’ll dive into the ‘how,’ providing some tips on how to start developing these relationships.