Most everyone agrees that building strong and broad relationships is the key to professional success, but many professionals (especially those who are more technically inclined) find it difficult to do so. While team-building events, networking lunches, and virtual chats can be effective tactics, it’s important that leaders also look inside and identify habits to help them refine their approach to day-to-day interactions. so that they can foster stronger bonds on a regular basis.
With a background in math and engineering working mostly in technical environments, I absolutely struggled with the “relational side” of leadership. I was the classic ‘bull style’ leader who tended to only call when I needed something and skip the chatter at the start of the meeting, choosing to dive straight into a review of the action items. open. As my career progressed, I started to realize that something was not quite working out. While I was able to produce deliverables with enviable precision, I struggled to establish real relationships beyond a few close friends. At the start of my career as an individual contributor, it actually wasn’t much of a barrier. In fact, leaders sometimes fought to get me on their team because I had gained a reputation as a great workhorse, but as I rose in the hierarchy and took on more responsibilities. wide, my task-oriented leadership style did not work as well.
While relationship building might seem intimidating to those of us who aren’t naturally wired for it, the truth is that the most basic building blocks are just getting to know people and allowing them to really get to know you. For more relationship-oriented professionals with naturally high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ), this happens all the time during the day-to-day interactions before a video call begins, during the virtual chat that often animates a phone call. ‘team otherwise dry. or even during occasional jokes in the break room or the elevator. But for those of us who might be more introverted, socially awkward, or with EQ issues, we may miss these little opportunities to gradually build and amplify relationships with a wide range of people (including those outside of us. our main network).
Early in my career, I discovered that I was naturally designed to be stronger on the task / technical side and that I would need to intentionally build my relationship muscle to achieve an optimally effective leadership style. To do this, I adopted a simple habit that not only gave amazing results, but ultimately helped me reprogram my approach to relationship building first, the task second. This simple habit has been transformative for me. Here’s how it evolved.
I had been leading a project for months with a remote team and noticed that I had a contentious transactional relationship with one particular team member. She regularly submitted her data to me late and we hardly cared about each other. After the project was completed, I realized that my biggest mistake as a project manager was not taking the time to communicate with team members one-on-one. Determined to improve my relationship building skills, I decided to make a simple change to the hygiene of my phone calls. First, I brainstormed a list of 2-3 personal facts about each key person I spoke with frequently. For this particular woman, my list included …
· American Idol – She absolutely loved the show and wanted to try it someday.
· Goizueta MBA – I graduated from Emory’s Goizueta MBA program, and she was also interested in the program.
Twinkles – She treated her Chihuahuas (including Twinkles) as her children and dressed them on weekends for competitions and other events.
I wrote these facts down on a post-it near my phone, then when I called her instead of just going for what I wanted (my natural inclination), I took the post-it with her name upstairs and asked her about something. on the list, not in a robotic or manipulative way, but with the sincere intention of finding out more. While this habit might seem a little silly to those who are more outgoing, it provided me with the training wheels I needed to start thinking “relationship first” more instinctively.
Particularly given the rollercoaster induced by the pandemic over the past two years, soft skills like empathy and relationship building are increasingly seen as absolutely essential for strong leadership. While this particular habit can yield great results, it is just one example of the type of habit leaders can implement to best meet their specific needs and work environment. Annual team retreats are great, but the truth is, real relationships are built over time through daily interactions. If relationship building doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t let that be your excuse for doing nothing. Find a habit that encourages you to log in regularly and do it.