Relationship building as the key to success

In my work as a coach and trainer, I spend a lot of time with leaders striving to be more productive and increase their impact. At career beginnings there is a lot of focus on technical competence but around mid-management level the realization kicks in that if you really want to leave a mark, you cannot do so with your individual performance alone. You have to leverage the performance of others so building sustainable relationships at work becomes a key skill of leadership.

Becoming a successful leader – what does it take?

A little simplified you could say that success as a leader in modern organizations, and not least in hybrid contexts, has four components and building relationships is one of them. Becoming skilled at relationships, however, is perhaps a little less straightforward than you might think.

On the one hand it really is a skill. It is something you can learn and to an extent it can be broken down into behaviors that are not technically difficult to adopt. The people development industry – and SIMDUSTRY is of course a part of this industry – is full of offers to help us become better listeners, show more appreciation, give more constructive and more frequent feedback. We can learn ways to influence others and we can train ourselves to approach the building of networks strategically instead of simply intuitively. More fundamentally, however, relationship building is more about identity and attitude than skill. Skills are comparatively easy to learn but applying them effectively takes some pretty solid self-knowledge. Questions like: Who am I? Who do I want to be? What are my triggers? How aware am I of my emotions and what causes them? cannot be bypassed without risk. As we like to say in people development, before you lead others you need to be able to lead yourself.

I was in a meeting recently with a clients who had just been to one of our seminars where one of the topics was looking critically at the phrase “yes, but”. Two or three times he started saying “yes, but” and then checked himself, remembered the training and started again. He showed surprise at how difficult it was to do. Habits die hard but they are key to change. Attitude and skills influence each other.

The best way to start with relationship building

Check out Dale Carnegie’s classic from 1936 How to Win Friends and Influence People.
This is self-help before there was self-help. The book has been criticised for being manipulative but I think this misses the point. Manipulation has to do with intention, but the Dale Carnegie tips are just tips. Depending on whether you want to connect with the other person or whether World Domination is your goal, simple tips like “using the other person’s name” and “letting the other person think it was her idea” take on very different flavours. What is it you want to achieve? Why are you engaging in this particular interaction? Again, we start with skill but we quickly end up at self-management.

Wisely chosen authenticity is the key to more leadership success

Inauthenticity occurs when there is a mismatch between what we think and what we say and do and is generally to be avoided. Obviously. We should not forget, however, that we need a little inauthenticity in order to live with each other in relative peace. Imagine what would happen if there was no filter, if we felt compelled to say everything that came to our minds. Hollywood has played with this idea a couple of times. The result is always comedy, but drama, war, or tragedy would probably be more appropriate genres.

It is obviously healthy to act in accordance with one’s inner beliefs and thoughts, but I sometimes find that authenticity is used as an excuse not to change a certain behavior.
Say you have been given the feedback that you occasionally come across as aggressive and dominant in conversation. A common reaction is to dismiss the criticism and call the behavior direct or honest – and very possibly refer to a rather limiting definition of authenticity to explain why change is not desirable or possible – “that’s just the way I am” or “I believe in saying what I think”. Saying what you think is indeed very positive but saying everything you think, and saying it all the time is just not very helpful.

The four components to success – What are they?

Be good at what you do. Learn what you can change and what you cannot. And find out what you want. Together with building relationships, those components I have found explain why some people have great careers and others do not.

This article was written by the coach, consultant, writer and SIMDUSTRY® trainer Bo Graesborg. At SIMDUSTRY®, Bo is the Trainer for Remote and Hybrid Leadership. Also, Bo has written the book “C(O)RE: or: The Boaching Guide to Career Success”. Make sure to check it out.