Building Leadership Relationship


People are at the center of all leadership efforts. Leaders cannot lead unless they understand the people they are leading. One way to look at leadership is that the function of a leader is to lead and guide people who will follow with the same values. An effective leader thus must be able to build relationships and create communities. We can define leadership as inspiring people and planning for the future with the motivating factors of relationship building and community service. Relationships can happen between concepts, actions, and values. As for communities, one of the great advantages I have found working in higher education is leveraging the communities that exist for many different disciplines, interests, and practices. These communities provide, for anyone who wants to participate, opportunities to network and to become involved with others who share like values.

Values are important ideals that guide our priorities and are core to an organization. Values tie people together, set vision, and affect what we do as organizations and communities. To quote the business philosopher Peter F. Drucker: “Every enterprise requires commitment to common goals and shared values.”

 “In reality, leadership is an expression of collective, community action. Leadership is something that happens as a result of leader and stakeholder collaborative action. Leadership is not a starring role. True leadership describes unified action of leaders and followers (stakeholders) working together to jointly achieve mutual goals. It is collaborative.”2 Collaboration is what happens in any organization or community. How well it is done—that is, how well the leader shapes the organization or the community to meet ever-changing needs—often dictates the outcomes.

Leaders today need essential characteristics in order to build, guide, and maintain their organizations and communities. Some of these qualities include thinking for the future and developing a vision. It is important to set goals and to realize that change can happen along the way. Leaders must recognize their own initiative, want to lead, and be willing to assume responsibility. Motivation can take on many meanings—from creating the incentive for good project outcomes to guiding a vision that gives your followers energy and direction.

Commitment to the cause for the values of the group is also necessary for a good leader. Through commitment, we find more meaning in our work and service, and when we find more meaning in our work and service, we find value. As John W. Gardner said in his book On Leadership: “Leaders must not only have their own commitments, they must move the rest of us toward commitment.”3

It is easy to lead for yourself. It is more difficult to lead for others. Honesty, integrity, and the ability to be supportive will create a more successful environment. We all want to know that our leaders are deserving of our trust. It’s about having trust in their knowledge of who and what they are leading, trust in why they have chosen to lead, and trust in their ability to accomplish the vision and goals that have been set forward.

Relationship building
Another way leaders can grow themselves and the people around them is to identify where relationship building can be maintained and where it can be strengthened. Connecting with others is one of the most effective ways one can lead. In The Leadership Challenge, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner say: “When leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence, people take risks, make changes, keep organizations and movements alive. Through that relationship, leaders turn their constituents into leaders themselves.”

In both maintaining and strengthening relationships, it is important to value people for who they are. Ask questions, really listen, and develop a mutual commitment. Encouraging others to take a chance, going along with them even when you don’t know what the outcomes will be, and having the courage to support their decisions is something you can do to help lead. You must also develop your own communication skills and in turn help others to develop theirs. Communication is a very powerful strategy when you are working to accomplish a goal. Making sure that you and your expectations are understood will benefit everyone. This will help you focus on teamwork and the prioritization of goals—which is especially important since it takes a group to attain those goals.

In building relationships and creating communities, good leaders are better able to acclimate to changes and work with more diverse teams. But where do you find the opportunities to lead? In 2008 at the EDUCAUSE annual conference, Deborah Keyek-Franssen was sponsoring a gathering for attendees to talk about ways to advocate for women in higher education information technology. She and I had attended the Frye Leadership Institute (now the Leading Change Institute) that previous summer and had developed a friendship. I admired Deb for contacting EDUCAUSE and for having the initiative to request a meeting room for what would become the Women in IT Constituent group. As a result of our friendship and my interest in the topic, Deb asked if I would like to join her in leading this group. Together we have seen the group become very productive in promoting the advocacy of women in the areas of IT recruitment, retention, and advancement efforts in higher education. These efforts have succeeded because of the effective and responsive community. Through the continual development of the values of the community, we have been able to see the growth of individuals and watch them realize their potential.

To become a leader, take note of the opportunities around you and reach out to others. When you purposefully work toward building relationships and creating communities, you’ll become an effective leader—both for yourself and for others.

Leaders with strong, trusting and authentic relationships with their teams know that investing time in building these bonds makes them more effective overall. As the second edition of our best-selling book hits shelves, we ask – how can talking make workplace relationships better?

When employees have high levels of engagement this has a significant, measurable and transformational impact on organisational performance. Research shows that it is the quality of the relationship people feel they have with their immediate leader or manager that is the primary driver of these feelings of engagement.

So, relationships really matter. They are not an optional take it or leave it factor. They are a fundamental enabler of you and your organisation’s ability to attract, keep and get the very best out of your people. Effective leaders know that leadership IS relationship, and leaders and managers with poor or toxic relationships with their teams will see performance suffer.

In the second edition of 5 Conversations – How to transform trust, engagement and performance at work, we explore the five key conversations every leader should be having with their teams to make their relationships more effective.

 What are the 5 Conversations?
The Oxford Group has identified five key conversations you can have that transform trust and develop more effective workplace relationships which we explore in both the programme and the book.

They are:

Establishing a trusting relationship – a conversation with a team member to share a deep, mutual understanding of your respective drivers, preferences, motivators and demotivators for high performance at work, and to understand what makes each other tick

Agreeing mutual expectations – a conversation about not only what you are both trying to achieve at work, but also why, and the expectations you can have to support each other in achieving these outcomes

Showing genuine appreciation – a conversation to help a team member focus on where they are being successful, to jointly understand the reasons for their success, to say how much you appreciate their contribution and find further ways in which they can deploy their skills and talents to benefit both themselves and the organisation

Challenging unhelpful behaviour – a conversation to agree a new and more effective set of behaviours where what a team member or colleague is saying or doing is getting in the way of team performance

Building for the future – a conversation to explore the future career aspirations of a team member and give you the best possible chance of creating conditions that will enable them to build that future career within your organisation rather than elsewhere.

The challenges facing new leaders in a business situation are many and varied. It’s a demanding time, after all, for an individual both professionally and personally, when much learning takes place. One of the keys to becoming as effective as possible, as quickly as possible, is in getting to know your team well – building those relationships.

Your success as a leader will be judged by your team’s results – so those results can often be seen as a reflection of your relationships with the people delivering them.

Here then are seven ways to build rapport with your team, and ensure that great relationships are the foundation upon which you build outstanding performance:

1. Build a Culture of Listening:
There is a lot written about being an active listener, and it’s one of the pillars of building rapport with individuals. This includes giving the person in front of you your full attention, minimizing distractions, reflecting back emotions, and checking your understanding by asking questions.

But there’s another way you’ll build great relationships with your team through listening, and that is to run meetings in a way that ensures everyone has a voice and feels listened to. In Time To Think, author Nancy Kline talks about creating a “Thinking Environment” in organizations, based on allowing people the space and time to think, and access their own ideas, before offering yours. Allowing everyone an uninterrupted turn to speak at the very least, will allow people in your team to feel listened to. Kline argues that running a meeting based around these principles ‘…produces better ideas in less time, provides the participants with the courage to act and leaves the group feeling good about itself.’

2. Learn to Recognize Emotion in Others:
Developing “Emotional Intelligence,” the concept made famous by Harvard psychologist Daniel Goleman in his ground-breaking book, is another crucial component of leadership. One aspect of this involves being able to recognize and name emotions, both in yourself and in other people. Psychologist Paul Ekman, an expert in the field of facial expressions, says that the ability to ‘…see and respond to others often unspoken feelings is central to compassionate connection.’  He argues that our faces are the best places in which to read our emotions –  a window to how we’re really feeling. Learning to recognize those micro-expressions of feeling allows us to connect more fully with others; in his research, he found that people who could do this successfully ‘…were better liked by others.’  Respectfully recognizing another’s emotional state will allow a leader to demonstrate empathy, and alter the way s/he communicates in order to be heard.

3. Use Praise:
Praise can be a great motivator when it is authentic, since it fosters positive emotions and can boost performance. In 2004, The Gallup Organization surveyed over four million people globally, and concluded that employees who received regular praise and recognition increased productivity, engaged more with colleagues, and were less likely to leave an organization.

The key word here, though, is “authentic.” So, Carol Dweck, in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, advises that any feedback should be specific and constructive. Leaders should be able to clearly identify what a team member does that is effective — and what it adds to the overall performance of the group. As a leader, sharing this knowledge will boost the positive emotions of team members, so it is helpful to share insights with other employees in the group (this helps the whole team to understand each other’s strengths), as well as with people in the company outside of your department. This will increase the team’s visibility and reputation, and may well provide opportunities for individuals to become involved in projects across the wider organization. Growing your team members and facilitating their own career success is a fabulous rapport-building skill, and reflects extremely well on you, since it shows that you have the ability to inspire and strengthen other’s job performance.  This in turn can be seen as one of the key components of good leaders.

4. Be a Leader:
Teams want leading, not another ‘buddy’ who indulges in office gossip. A leader’s role isn’t to be everyone’s best friend, but to behave in a leadenly fashion that inspires trust and confidence. A leader provides a vision and objectivity, standing outside the melting-pot of the day-to-day frustrations and minutiae. Clarity and a different perspective can be offered by someone who sees things differently and has a wider, deeper view of what’s happening within the team. So in order to develop this, a leader needs to understand their own leadership style, appreciate the often intangible qualities inherent in the role, and master the complex demands of serving as well as leading others. Tips: Be someone your team can trust and rely on to demonstrate fairness, empathy, compassion and  strong boundaries. This will transform your team into a safe working environment for all concerned.

5. Set High Expectations:
This is certainly important in terms of outcomes, but also in terms of behavior and culture. One way to make sure everyone knows what is expected of them, is simply to tell them. Don’t be afraid of articulating your expectations – and ensure you demonstrate these daily. Or better still, set the tone of the team through an agreed approach to adopt the highest standards of ‘being.’  Setting expectations will also allow roles to be clarified, success to be visualized, and individuals to be empowered to make the most of their talents – i.e., adopting a ‘yes, you can’ attitude towards projects can lift performance. This also demonstrates your belief in your team. Once you have understood your team’s individual strengths, then setting challenging goals can help everyone develop and grow.

6. Ask Questions:
This way of communicating has several benefits. It signals interest in your team, both personally and professionally. Adopting a questioning, coaching style as a leader will also allow others to be more solutions-focused, which in turn empowers individuals.   Questions can encourage a culture of exploration and innovation amongst team members, especially if you model being someone who digs deeper, rather than just accepting the status quo. A team culture that asks questions may also be more ready to ‘try’, and therefore run the risk of failing a little more often. A leader who inspires others to take risks and be comfortable with ‘failure’, while at the same time supporting them, will inspire tremendous loyalty. A leader I once worked for told everyone on our team at his first team meeting, that he would support anything we did – his only request was that we were honest about what we had tried. Why did this work well? The clear message was that taking risks was a good thing, which meant as a team we were often innovative.

7. Develop Shared Values.
Values are the often unspoken rules by which we act; they govern our behaviour. Richard Barrett, founder of the Values Centre, and an expert in values-driven organizations, argues that ‘When a group of people espouse a set of agreed values, and understand which behaviors support those values, then…all rules reduce to one – live the values.’  Devoting some time as a new leader to establishing a team’s values not only builds great relationships between you and the team, but everyone else as well. It’s a highly effective way to cement a team when the individuals agree upon the values, providing a common bond between all members. Understanding your own values can be a good way to start; this free self-assessment at the Values Centre is a useful place to begin.

Building great relationships with your team is crucial if you want to get good results fast. So taking time at the outset to create a trusting and humane bond, that nevertheless expects and values good performance, helps you immeasurably along the way. These seven ways to foster rapport and communication with your team will build a solid foundation for that.

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