I recently travelled out of town with the man I am dating. During the trip, someone asked me why I hadn’t changed my Facebook status to “in a relationship.” Notwithstanding the giggles and eye roll that followed that question, I pondered the word “relationship.” Coincidentally, I was asked to write a guest post for Talent Anarchy on that very subject. I proceeded to compare a dating relationship with the work relationships leaders have with their employees. As you might imagine, they are very similar.
- They both require caring.
- They both require courage.
- They both require trust.
- They both require communication.
- They both require investment.
Leaders must show their teams they care about them. They don’t have to get involved in their personal lives or indulge their employees’ every desire. However, they do have to know enough about their employees’ lives to put their work and stories into context. They have to demonstrate they’re loyal and supportive. They have to explain themselves when they’re unable or unwilling to provide what their employees have asked for. These behaviors show leaders care about their employees and act as a good foundation for a strong relationship.
Courage is huge word—it includes bravery, strength, grit and determination in the face of fear. Without courage, there is no growth, there is no learning and there is no progress in or maturation of relationships.
Vulnerability, no doubt, cripples many of us—heaven forbid we are perceived as imperfect! But courage demands vulnerability be present. When we quit spending our energy on hiding something or faking it, and begin to show our weaknesses or our idiosyncrasies to our team, they are empowered to do the same. It’s scary, but eventually, the façade fades away and exposes our authentic selves, which is required to have a healthy relationship.
Trust is another big word that’s critical to good relationships; it’s also the one we most frequently screw up. To trust means we have a belief in the reliability or truth of what another person says. To trust means we believe the other person has done the best he/she could. To trust means we believe the other person has our best interest at heart and in mind. To trust means we believe the other person will behave and/or operate in good faith. To trust means we have faith that the other person will take care of something as good or better than we would do ourselves. To trust means we feel we’re in good hands, that we’ll be safe or cared for.
As leaders, we must never betray another’s trust. We must be honest and discipline ourselves to not stretch or exaggerate the truth. We must avoid overcommitting and do what we say we’re going to do. We must be “just” in our actions and behave in a manner that is aligned with honorable values and commitments. We must assume a protective stance for all within our network and resist the temptation to gossip, defame, or throw people under the bus.
For such a small little word, trust is a key element in building and maintaining good relationships.
One can’t tease quality communication apart from the elements mentioned above; we demonstrate caring, courage, and trust through communication.
I have never, in my 23-year career, heard of a team who has “too much” communication, or from a team who believed the communication was “too good.” Instead, they all want more or better communication from their leaders.
That being said, leaders need to prioritize communication and be smart about it (ensure it is the right amount and detail, given at the right time, and for the right audience). Leaders also need to ensure communication is two-way, meaning they give a voice to their teams and listen. Listening is a tricky business and leaders need to discipline themselves to actively do so. Finally, leaders need to make information available to their teams in a variety of mediums; this communication is vital to building a relationship that grows and adjusts in a positive way.
Relationships take work; while some come more easily than others, all of them require an investment. Time and energy become the currency. As leaders, we can’t be stingy and we must be willing to spend a little to get a little.
Leaders often say, “I don’t have time for that,” but I call bullshit! They have the time, they just haven’t prioritized the relationship.
Some leaders exclaim, “I can’t…” but I challenge them with, “you won’t, because you don’t find value in the relationship.”
I firmly believe selfishness and laziness don’t belong in relationships, and that leaders must fully commit to spending time and energy to make them work. Leaders need to quit demanding employees submit to their schedules and, instead, try to fit into theirs. Do more asking and less telling. Do less preaching and more practicing.
I believe the return leaders will get on these investments will come back to them tenfold in productivity, in engagement, and in strong, resilient relationships.
In closing, my relationship status with the man I am dating is very similar to the ones I have with my employees. It’s not a “status” at which to arrive; rather, it’s an evolving dynamic. Provided I care, demonstrate courage, earn trust, communicate and invest in it, my relationship will strengthen and be a positive influence in my life.
Indeed, if I do similar things with my employees, my work relationships will do the same.
This post was contributed by long-time Talent Anarchy friend, Heather Kinzie. Heather is chief operating officer at The Strive Group, an organization that offers business consulting, professional development, think tank discussions, and more. She serves as a coach for business leaders to help illuminate the path forward, and says her purpose is improving communities and the businesses that support them.