Teams and leadership, at their core, are really all about relationships: peer-to-peer relationships, the relationship of leader to follower, and the relationship between a follower and his or her leader.
The more I study team and leadership development and serve as a leader and team member myself, the more I am convinced that the ability to develop strong, fulfilling, mutually-beneficial relationships is the key difference between high performance and mediocrity, healthy and unhealthy. While we often talk about the importance of balancing results and relationships, realizing we often achieve great results through effective relationships is critical.
I have found, though, that believing in the importance of healthy workplace relationships is easier than consistently developing them. By effective workplace relationships, I am not simply referring to one’s ability to get along with others, though that is certainly a starting point. I am referring to relationships that are built on mutual care and respect, those in which diverse skillsets are valued and leveraged, those in which conflict leads to superior results rather than frustration and hurt feelings, and those in which each person is seeking to add value to the other.
“We often achieve great results through effective relationships.”
Why are these relationships often challenging to build? There are probably many reasons, but I think one key contributor is the limitation of personal perspective. Everyone has a perspective, a lens through which we view every conversation, decision, project, and person. As hard as we try to see things from other perspectives, our point of view is always influenced by our unique experiences and presuppositions. While we can seek to understand other perspectives (and we should!), we never fully shed our own way of thinking. The takeaway here is to recognize that our perspective is limited; therefore, we need to take steps to account for this in the way we relate to others. Those who do this well will find their outcomes are much more productive and fulfilling.
Consider the following four suggestions for developing effective and fulfilling relationships.
Keep an open mind.
My perspective is limited. Your perspective is limited. Though this may sound simple, it is often the most basic stuff that trips us up. Relationships, by definition, involve more than one person. If our minds aren’t open, how can we benefit from one another?
Have a short memory.
Living this out can be tough, but it opens the door to progress. Focusing on frustration from past mistakes or disagreement stalls the relationship and stunts team growth. There is nothing to be gained by keeping a record of wrongs, and others will sense when you are waiting for them to fail. This is not a call to ignore shortcomings. Address things quickly, then move forward.
Seek to create value.
This is foundational. It really boils down to serving others vs. serving self. I am fully persuaded that a servant approach to leadership and teams is the best way to achieve results in a fulfilling way. In their book Remarkable: Maximizing Results Through Value Creation, Dr. Randy Ross and David Salyers make a great case for value creation over value extraction and elevating “We” over “Me.” The next time you are engaged in a difficult relationship with a leader, follower, or team member, ask yourself, “How can I add value to this person?” Then, ask yourself that same question with every person you encounter. This single shift in thinking will have a revolutionary effect on the dynamic of workplace relationships.
When mistakes are made and conflict occurs, we often retreat to the safe company of others who share our perspective, rather than doing the hard work of seeking understanding and making progress toward common goals. If a relationship is difficult, talk about it. Vulnerability is incredibly disarming and truth flourishes in the light of day. Be honest about the source of your frustration and willing to acknowledge that your perspective is incomplete. Humble, honest communication is always a great place to start.
Relationships are at the core of leadership and teams. What is one relationship that is limiting the performance of your team? What actions could you take this week to strengthen that relationship?