For almost 10 years, I’ve been writing about leadership and in that time, perhaps one of the most significant shifts I’ve seen has been the willingness to recognize that the key to our success as leaders stems from the relationships we foster and nurture with those we lead.
That we no longer view employees through the lens of Fredrick Taylor’s scientific approach to management – where people are merely assets, and interactions are transactional in nature.
Aside from notions of this being the ‘right thing to do’, this shift from transactional to relationship-based leadership has been proven to create tangible benefits – if not also a competitive edge – for today’s organizations.
In fact, a recent study by Harvard researchers found that when leaders focus on building relationships with their employees, they create conditions that lead to higher levels of organizational commitment, as well as increased employee accountability for their performance and greater satisfaction with their jobs.
This is one of the reasons why I’m looking forward to speaking at the Totem Summit in Whistler, British Columbia later this month because the goal of this conference is building relationships. Specifically, the majority of the conference day involves participating in outdoor activities to allow attendees to interact and engage with the invited guests and speakers. It’s only at the end of the day that attendees will hear speakers like myself share our insights and advice.
This shift in focus in how conferences are designed reflects the current reality in today’s workplaces. Namely, that our ability to succeed and thrive is not simply predicated by the knowledge and skills we’ve accrued, but also by the relationships we seek out to create and build.
Of course, while we might state that building relationships is the key to leadership success, it’s hard to reconcile this truth in the face of today’s faster-paced, ever-changing global environment.
Although we may have access to a greater number of channels through which to communicate and exchange ideas, that doesn’t mean that we’re being effective in creating lasting and meaningful bonds with those around us, and especially with those we lead.
So with that in mind, I’d like to share a few strategies that will help leaders create the proper conditions to truly connect and engage with their employees, and in so doing, provide a workplace environment that engenders greater levels of employee commitment, accountability, and success.
1. Get outside of your head to understand what others experience
If we look at today’s workplaces where we not only have to operate at a much more accelerated pace, but we also have to do more with less, it’s not hard to see why most leaders have narrowed their focus to those things that demand their attention, or which will help them feel some semblance of getting things done.
Unfortunately, this narrowed focus also means there’s less consideration for what their employees need or require to feel successful in their own efforts. And that disconnect will undoubtedly lead to employees becoming disengaged in the work they do, resulting in a loss in potential and productivity.
So if we’re going to be successful in our leadership by building relationships with our employees, we need to make the conscious effort to take a step back to consider the realities and challenges our employees face, as well as the opportunities they notice where they can make a difference.
That’s why building relationships is about more than understanding others; it’s making people feel understood [Share on Twitter].
2. Move beyond seeing people based on their titles or roles
As leaders, it’s easy for our focus to be on what we want to accomplish or what matters most to us. Unfortunately, this can lead us to treat our employees as more of a means to an end than valued contributors to our organization’s vision or long-term goals.
What we need to do to counterbalance this is to discover what matters to our employees. This is where building relationships with our employees comes into play, as it will help us to not only understand what they hope to accomplish, but also what would make them feel like they’re contributing in a meaningful fashion, and how we can connect these measures with the shared purpose of our organization.
It’s important to remember that to drive success, we need to encourage people to bring their full selves to the work they do [Share on Twitter].
3. Understand and develop their true strengths
Most of us understand that there’s greater value to be found in focusing on building our strengthens than getting mired down in trying to constantly overcome our weaknesses.
Unfortunately, as leaders, we often confuse what our employees excel at as being their strengths. The truth is our strengths are not the things we do well; rather, it’s the things that strengthen us [Share on Twitter]. We see this in those tasks that we are internally motivated to take on because they are directly tied to the things we genuinely care about.
And this is where building relationships with our employees becomes so invaluable because it allow us to discover what aspects of their work our employees get excited about; the tasks they fully dedicate themselves to because it matters, not just to their organization, but for themselves as well.
In other words, by building relationships, we connect our employees’ strengths to what becomes their life’s work [Share on Twitter].
While working on this piece, I came upon this quote attributed to Albert Einstein:
“From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other – above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”
In many ways, Einstein’s quote sums up the nature of leadership today – namely, that our leadership is not defined by what we get, but by what we give to help others evolve and grow [Share on Twitter].
That the Fredrick Taylor philosophy of management of how to maximize output derived from input should no longer be the equation by which we choose to lead those under our care.
Rather, it’s about those connections, those bonds we develop and nurture with our employees. Of how much effort we’re putting into connecting what matters to our employees with what matters to our organization.
The unfortunate truth is that we’re living in an increasingly divisive world – whether it’s because of our political viewpoints, because of our religious beliefs, or even because of where we or our parents came from.
And yet, the undeniable truth is that the longevity of today’s organizations is no longer dependent on what technologies you use, where you operate, or even what you create. Rather, your organization’s ability to adapt, evolve, and grow in today’s interconnected, global environment is dependent on the people who show up every day to help your organization move one step closer to achieving your shared purpose.
In the face of this reality, there’s no question that being able to foster and nourish relationships with those you have the responsibility to lead is not only the smart thing to do; it’s what’s necessary for us to succeed and thrive both in the present, and in the years to come.