Connected leadership- Do professional relationships really matter?

It’s almost a cliché to say that people are your greatest asset but are we doing all we can to help our people to do their best for each other and the organisation? Yes, over recent times we have seen concepts and approaches such as employee engagement and experience rise up the leadership lexicon but is that enough?

Professional Relationships mentor and speaker Andy Lopata believes that we could and should be doing more by fostering business relationships and improving our ability to connect strategically. He explores this topic in depth in his latest book ‘Connected Leadership – How Professional Relationships Underpin Executive Success’. I invited him to join me to discuss some of the strategies, tools and techniques that individuals can deploy in order to harness the power of professional relationships.

Together in the dark

Businesses invest huge amounts to address the challenges arising from events such as M&As, digital transformations, growth, new products, and so on. That investment tends to be targeted towards tangible items from IT and infrastructure to marketing or training.  But as we know only too well from our work on culture and engagement, it is our people who ultimately engender success; leveraging relationships both inside and outside the immediate team in order to deliver strong outcomes.

This has never been clearer than in the present climate. Catastrophic events such the 2010    volcanic ash clouds which stopped air travel for nearly a week may have given us a glimpse of a world suddenly removed from normality but nothing has prepared us for the upheaval brought about by COVID-19. Whilst the demand for some organisations’ services has doubled overnight, others have faced an immediate, hopefully temporary, shut down. At the same time working from home has taken on a new significance, leveraging the goodwill of our people as they look to carry on in the face of immense challenge.

This then is a time in which the value of professional relationships comes to the fore; bringing us together in the dark rather than isolated in a void. Sharing experiences, supporting each other through a common bond of trust enables us not only to improve our own leadership but also to help each other to grow. And the key to building a successful professional relationship is continual meaningful conversations underpinned by a desire to support the other person.

Authentic, strategic, interactions

Time is a precious commodity. So when we look to build relationships we can’t afford to do so in a scattergun manner, we should be looking to build a strategic mix of contacts. Andy suggests that we look towards three key relational approaches; looking towards those who can influence key decisions, those who are intermediaries or introducers, and those who can provide information, ideas or insight.

Within each of these groups there may be people you don’t know but want to connect with, those who you do know but of whom you aren’t asking the right questions, and those with whom you already have a relationship which may be strong or may need to be built further over time. Identifying and breaking down these groups and approaches can help to build a strategic approach to professional relationships which can stand the test of time.

Admittedly there will be some individuals that you will click with instantly, building a relationship which is as much personal as business. Others will be formed on a more strategic/ partnership basis. Either way the key to success is to ensure that you put yourself into the relationship, looking to build an authentic and trusted connection. And even when building strategic relationships, do so on a human rather than a robotic level.

It’s the right thing to do

In a time poor environment how do you justify spending time on relationship building? The answer is quite simply that time invested in relationships more than repays itself in current and future benefits. For example, building a relationship across departments both within and outside the workforce not only helps to break down silos but can also trigger innovation ideas and breakthroughs. Similarly, when leaders build relationships with their people they also build a two-way communication and trust matrix; something which is particularly important in these days of home working with leaders having to look to relinquish a measure of control in order to empower their people to work more independently.

Good relationships are central to positive cultures, making relationship building quite simply the right thing to do. Be aware though that building strong positive relationships does take time and understanding. Andy talks about the seven stages of relationships; moving from a simple acknowledgement of having met through knowing, liking and trusting and on to a willingness to provide support, be an advocate and potentially a friend. The early stages require positive input and commitment. However, as the relationship strengthens and develops the positive time commitment reduces, being replaced by a mutual understanding of support as and when required. You know a relationship is strong when you pick up the phone after ten years and it is as if you have never been apart.

Where do you start? In our webinar Andy has a number of suggestions including be intentional, be a human being, and make 90% of the relationship about the other person. He suggests looking at the seven stages of professional relationships alongside the identification of the type of relationships and the people that you may need to build deeper connections with. But perhaps his final suggestion is the most important. That is to simply pick up the phone and start to connect.