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The Relationship Driven Leader

By Michelle Tillis Lederman:

Are you someone’s boss? Do you have a boss? Or are you, like many, in both roles?

I would hope that being both a manager and an employee would give you perspective on how to think about work relationships. After all, it is easy to complain about your boss…but do you realize that they may be complaining about you, too?

At the end of the day, both the employee and employer are responsible for maintaining a good and productive relationship. Your relationship with your boss has a huge impact on your happiness and effectiveness on the job. The Well Being at Work Report has revealed that the most important factors for improving productivity are effective workplace relationships. If we think about what makes a difference in our professional careers, it is about having people be your champion, be willing to follow you, work with you and work hard for you.

It doesn’t have to be a buddy movie connection, but having an effective and positive working relationship with your boss is essential. It enables better communication, better growth opportunities, and a better environment. When you have a relationship built on trust, you can both be in alignment on what your objectives are and the best way to accomplish them, which is a win for both of you.

So, whether you’re a manager, employee, or both, there are three things to remember about the importance of your relationships:

  1. People don’t work for a company, they work for a person. The number one reason people leave is because they don’t want to work for their boss anymore. You want to be the person that people want to work for, work with, the one everyone wants on their project, client, board and committee.
  2. Strong work relationships increase happiness and boost productivity.
  3. The belief that management has interest in the employee’s well-being and demonstrates that people are important to the company’s success is the #1 driver of engagement.

If you want to have a productive working relationship, recognize that both parties are responsible for building the relationship. However, the tone is typically set by the boss – the leader.

As the leader, there are only two things you need to do to begin to build a stronger connection and in turn bring loyalty, productivity, and retention of your team: Show you care about the person, and show you care about the things the person cares about.

People don’t usually see the value of likability. Yet likability for a person, a company, a product, and a brand all lead directly to profitable results. Showing you care, and finding common values, are key.

As a kid, I remember thinking McDonalds and Coke were nice advertisers and Burger King and Pepsi were mean ones. Not surprisingly, that association impacts my buying decisions to this day. Do you have those associations? Ever have a bad customer service experience? Would you go back to that option if you had an alternative? Now think of it in terms of your own working environment. After a poor first impression, how likely are you to avoid interaction with an employee? How would that tension impact the team dynamic? How you perceive others is your reality about them, and the same is true for them of you. Likeability is irreplaceable in the workplace.

The value of likability has been overlooked in so many ways in business that it is starting to cause companies to lose valuable employees, clients, and referrals. A Gallup poll of more than 1 million employed U.S. workers concluded that the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. We have all heard the saying, “People leave managers not companies,” and that fact hits companies on the bottom line. Gallup puts the cost of disengagement at $440 billion dollars.

So how can it be avoided? Strength-based leadership (and relationship-based leadership) is a pivotal part of creating a cohesive team. Playing to your team’s strengths means you’re on the right track to success. Understanding the unique strengths of your team members is the surest way to both help your company achieve its larger goals, and to help employees feel engaged and motivated. Really, the purpose of leadership roles it to develop employee skills so that they can more effectively deliver results. But understanding each individual’s strength is a practice in psychology that involves empowering and aligning talent with work opportunities.

Curiosity creates connections. Harnessing curiosity opens up new avenues of dialogue. Start by asking questions—good questions. It seems obvious, but the tricky part is asking questions that get real answers. Try asking questions three different ways and to three different people to get at the truth. Ask coworkers: “What are this person’s best qualities?” Then ask the employee: “What do you look forward to most about your work?” Or, “What is one aspect of work you want to do more of and why?” And even, “What is one thing I could do to improve the way we work together?” Chances are, they’ll want to know the same things from you.

But asking is only one side of the algorithm. You have to listen to understand, and sometimes we aren’t listening as much as we think. To build meaningful connections, you need to listen from other people’s perspectives, and be open to looking at the world through different lenses. If you find yourself categorizing their answers, ask clarifying questions. Advocate for them when your perception gets the best of you. Ask yourself, what information am I really getting? What associations and assumptions am I making? Could those be harming our relationship?

The more interest you show your employees, and the better you understand them, the more personable their work becomes. You have to get to know your employee as a person, not a position. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but having a good relationship with those who report to you will increase productivity, decrease tension and turnover, and at the end of the day – make everyone happier on the job.

What can you do to improve your workplace relationships and create a better environment?

About the Author: Michelle Tillis Lederman, named one of Forbes Top 25 Networking Experts, is the author of several books including the internationally known, The 11 Laws of Likability, and The Connector’s Advantage. She is the founder and CEO of Executive Essentials, which provides customized communications and leadership training and coaching programs. A former finance executive and NYU Professor, she is a regular in the media appearing on NBC, CBS, Fox, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, CNBC, and others. She holds degrees from Lehigh University and Columbia Business School.


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