Strengthen Your Leadership by Building Relationships

This month, we'll be talking about how to build strong relationships, an essential for any leader. As you advance in your career, your success becomes more tied to the quality of your relationships because leaders have to get things done with and through others.  

As we start this discussion, I want to challenge you to focus on cultivating your own relationships this month. Today, I'll help you identify your most important relationships and give you some ideas for improving the ones that are little rocky. At the end of the month, we'll check back in on what you accomplished. Ready to get started?

Your key relationships

Among key stakeholders in the company, who really impacts your ability to get results? Remember that their influence may be through formal power that comes with their position or informal power as an opinion leader in your organization. Make a list of these individuals, putting them into one of three categories: high, moderate, or low impact.

Next, consider their level of supportiveness toward you and your goals. Who is an advocate, who is neutral, and who could be a derailer? Confirm your assessments with people that you trust — especially individuals who can give you insight based on direct interaction. Once you have completed this exercise, identify who has a high impact on your results and is either neutral or a potential derailer. If you identify several people, choose 2-3 to focus on first.

It’s important to understand that some of these individuals may have formed their perceptions about you through others, not through direct experiences with you. For example, a few months ago, one of my clients learned that a key executive wanted her out of the company even though he had never worked with her. Through our coaching process, she turned his perception around by consistently demonstrating her value, building a strong leadership brand, and developing stronger authentic relationships with his trusted advisors. That same executive is now a strong supporter, although the level of direct interaction with my client is still minimal.

Strategies to improve rocky relationships

Now, armed with your list of priority relationships, how do you make the rocky ones better? These three strategies are a good start:

  1. Have the right mindset. The No. 1 thing you can do to improve a relationship is to start from a place of acceptance. I realize that can be tough when you dislike certain things about her behavior or how she deals with you. If you expect her to show up as she always has, it will be less of a derailer in your conversation. Just contemplate what would happen if you approached her without expecting that anything will change, and with the assumption that she's doing the best she can.

  1. Find common ground. Take the time to consider what's most important to the other person. Look for clues in how he invests his time, what he says and does. What overlaps with what is important to you? Even if you dislike each other personally, you can improve your interactions by emphasizing where you are aligned – whether it’s your passion for growing the business or interests you have outside of work.

  1. Avoid triggers. Take a few minutes to consider the other person’s hot buttons. For example, if she gets defensive every time she hears "no" or other words that sound like resistance or disagreement, how can you rephrase your message? ("Yes, I understand, and let's also consider …")

This week, I want to challenge you to identify at least one high priority relationship and one step you will take to strengthen it. I'm looking forward to sharing more ideas and strategies with you this month, and to checking in with you at the end of October to see how your relationship-building work has gone.

You can find additional ways to strengthen relationships in my new Leadership EDGE booklets "Building Influence" and "Building a Powerful Network." Remember that small steps can lead to big results.