Relationship building and effective leadership go hand-in-hand in today’s corporate world. With collaboration often vital to an enterprise’s success, if leaders don’t develop solid bonds between their people, departments, customers and suppliers, they may not last long — or their company may drag behind the competition.
A study by the Center for Creative Leadership, sampling more than 400,000 people from 7,500 companies, including many Fortune 500 firms, found that nearly 70% of the bosses deemed relationship skills as critical to a leader’s success.
Further, experts say that a leader’s inability to build and maintain relationships — both internally and externally — can be the biggest obstacle to business growth. The leader’s world is about creating a direction and context for action, and leaders need to develop special relationships that include high levels of trust and commitment.
In the process, leaders face unique relationship challenges. One is staying true to themselves. Sometimes leaders promoted to a higher executive position struggle to grasp their expanded, strategic role, which can be ambiguous initially as they find their way to chart direction.
Many new leaders admit it’s challenging to stay true to themselves, especially with things coming at them so fast. Those who are able to stay true to themselves and manage their initial anxiety listen more and seek feedback. That allows them to increase trust and develop powerful relationships.
Another challenge: Leaders must manage multiple relationships. The higher they climb on the corporate ladder, increasing numbers of people want their attention. It’s impossible to do justice to them all so it’s time to prioritize the list to keep their most important working relationships manageable and growing.
Extra time is required to invest in and build mutual trust with the new connections. That doesn’t mean valuable relationships from the past get cast aside. An organization can allow a leader to hand off contacts to others. An effective leader needs to be a juggler of relationships, deciding which to invest in, how much to invest, and when to invest.
Leaders must also answer the challenge of building an organization where relationships thrive. An enlightened leader creates a culture where powerful business relationships can flourish. By aligning the culture around a mission supported by values and goals that promote high trust and collaboration, workers are able to take risks, learn from mistakes and adapt quickly, resulting in a successful, ever-growing enterprise.
When structure and culture are not aligned, your organization struggles, failing to fully execute your strategy or realize your vision. Often this leads to dysfunction and a toxic environment.
A major part of a leader’s job is to promote a healthy culture in which people, teams and organizations can succeed by working together productively. You are ultimately responsible for the health of your organization and the health of its critical business relationships. For many companies, these critical relationships become the ultimate strategic advantage.
Sallie J. Sherman, Ph.D., co-author of “Five Keys to Powerful Business Relationships” and “The Seven Keys to Managing Strategic Accounts,” is founder and CEO of S4 Consulting. Sherman is an expert in helping businesses grow by transforming their business-to-business relationships into strategic assets. Since 1986, she has focused on auditing clients’ key relationships — both internally and externally — and then using that information to collaboratively help companies design and execute relationship management strategies that create a sustainable, competitive advantage.
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Sallie J. Sherman