How Leaders Can Build Relationships at Work

Why do leaders need to build relationships?

Leaders who try to go it alone seldom accomplish much. Only until they build productive relationships with the people they lead can they begin to tap into the true potential of the group. But what does it take to build those relationships at work? Jerry Strom and Company set out to learn as they collected hundreds of thoughts from leaders, managers, supervisors and key employees over a 3-year period. They published their findings on January 2016. I’m summarizing the most relevant findings for your leadership.

The researchers asked the question “What’s the One Thing a Leader Should Do to Build Relationships at Work?” Based on the phrasing of the question, respondents identified the most important “actions” a leader can take.

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Relationships are Built through Communication

Communication at its best includes everyone — and involves both speaking and listening. Each are equally important. “You cannot build a relationship if you are unwilling or uncomfortable speaking to people around you and hearing what they have to say.”

A leader’s actions are judged by how their spoken, written, and non-verbal communications are interpreted. They must all reinforce one another, as mixed messages between what leaders say and what they do create cynicism and demotivate workers.

How strong that communication is depends significantly on a leader’s ability to get to know his/her employees — professionally and personally. Positive interactions result in understanding, which strengthens relationships, and creates unity and commitment.

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Developing Rapport Comes from Personal Connection

Above and beyond knowing their workers’ strengths, weaknesses, and technical abilities, leaders need to connect with people on a personal level. How?  Spending time with them and showing interest in their lives. This involves gathering individual insights — what they think, enjoy, appreciate. What’s shaped their opinions and made them who they are? Leaders who actively listen learn about the personalities that factor heavily in the work product, decisions, and achievements.

Simple things like greeting every employee you come in contact with, smiling, inviting feedback, and having small meetings that let you get to know your people are very helpful. Employees want to know that the leader cares. 

They also want to know about what’s going on in the organization. The workforce needs to know they have an avenue to express concerns and/or satisfactions with the work environment. “People want a voice. Give employees the opportunity to identify problems and/or issues, but more importantly listen to their solutions, and if possible implement them.”

Relationships are much stronger when people are informed and feel they are being heard.

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Relationships Require Attention and Frequency

Leaders need to do more than just communicate — they need to “be communicative.” In other words, they must show regular exchanges of information are valued, and expected. Come out of your cubicle or office. Talk to your people. Engage them in conversation. Be visible.

Being present makes a big difference: checking in with people often; greeting them first thing; connecting via phone, email, texts; stepping into their offices; recognizing them in the hallways and acknowledging them in meetings; sharing lunch, or coffee; having an open door and being willing to take time for conversation; giving one-on-one time.

“Interacting on a consistent basis creates the space for people to learn from and understand one another.” Engage employees — listen, inquire, coach, motivate, recognize their achievements. Let them know you value them and their efforts. Most importantly, mitigate their fears of being ignored or rejected. “People follow those they like, and will be more inclined to like people who show an interest in them.”

When leaders do the interpersonal work their teams and organizations will be stronger.  

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Trust has to be gained

Trust is the cumulative effect of a leader’s interpersonal skills — done in a positive and acceptable manner. —

“People will be skeptical of your capabilities until they have enough experience with you to be assured you’ll represent their best interests, and will serve as an advocate for their needs.” Once your co-workers, and subordinates gain trust, you’ll be more fruitful in achieving the mission.

Some of the basic rules for trust are:

  • Show trust in others —believe they will do the right thing.
  • Show that you can be trusted —above reproach, honest.
  • Facilitate trust between employees, departments, and offices by encouraging open dialogue.
  • Trust people know what they are doing —don't micromanage!
  • Give credit to others for success.
  • Be fair and consistent.
  • Don't show favoritism.
  • Maintain confidences.
  • Follow true with what you say you will do.
  • Speak the truth even if it's not the popular view.
  • Let everyones opinions be presented and considered.

It’s up to the leader to build bridges of interaction and understanding — supporting a whole ecosystem of trust — where “everyone is in the habit of maintaining and renewing their relationships with everybody else.” As you an see, It begins and ends with communication which will serve everyone well.

Remember. . .

As a leader you have influence in making a work environment that supports a culture of engagement with one another — sharing information, and collaborating. You are expected to set a good example by being interested, available, and involved with your people.

Start building relationships today!

Your turn. . .

What are you doing to build better relationships at work?   Share your comments with us.

P.S. My intensive and practical Leading Through Conversations program—which is based on a revolutionary neuroscience model of how brains and hearts interact—enables owners, boards, and senior executives to move from losing money, people, and time due to communication gone wrong to having more engagement and less time lost to conflicts and inefficiencies. You will learn how to foster productive dialogue both in meetings and in other difficult interactions. By developing your dialogue and heart connection skills you will have better relationships and be a more effective leader: the kind this century demands!