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Leadership Forum: Relationship leadership for a new era

Based on reader response to a recent column, here are my thoughts on the need for relationship-based leadership. If the word leadership were to suddenly disappear from our vocabulary, what would be the best replacement? Without question, it would be the word relationship. Linking these two words makes a lot of sense.

February 5, 2009
By David Hodgins

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Based on reader response to a recent column, here are my thoughts on the need for relationship-based leadership. 

If the word leadership were to suddenly disappear from our vocabulary, what would be the best replacement? Without question, it would be the word relationship. Linking these two words makes a lot of sense. Relationship leadership is the application of interpersonal skills to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect and to inspire others as we collectively focus on achieving common goals.

Practically stated, organization leaders are charged with the responsibility of getting the work goals met through the efforts of others.  To do this they must develop and nurture effective teams of people who can successfully achieve their work unit objectives despite the existence of common organizational obstacles while continuing to enjoy the process of working together.

Leaders require many skills to cultivate relationships. Those skills are instinctive for some; however, for most, training is required. Developing effective relationships is one of the fundamental building blocks necessary to ensure we enjoy beneficial interaction with the individuals with whom we come in contact regularly. Positive relationships create synergies that drive success. To get there we need to leave our egos at the door and be prepared to embrace simple acts of human kindness. 

Real leadership is not possible in the absence of civil behaviour. The day of the most physically powerful individual ruling the roost is long gone. The “strong like bull, smart like streetcar” approach doesn’t work anymore.  William Gates III is not likely to win a power lift contest, yet he is one of the world’s most successful business leaders. His ability to envision and develop software products has put him at No. 3 on the list of the world’s billionaires. At age 52, Gates is worth approximately $58 billion. When asked about his achievements, Gates is quick to respond that his passion to build win-win relationships with his business colleagues and employees drives his success. When you see him on TV you are immediately impressed by his down-home and open approach. When you watch him interact with others, you can understand why he is so highly respected.

When it comes to relationships and how we live our lives, I am concerned about what’s happening to civility and common courtesies, generally and especially in the workplace. Has technology reduced us to self-absorbed androids who are more concerned about instant messaging and fancy coffees with names I can’t remember and a cost akin to the minimum wage? What has happened to respect? What does it take to thank people for their assistance or reach out to people and recognize their accomplishments? I am not talking about a superficial thanks to someone as you walk by, head bowed in the BlackBerry “RIM-prayer” position, but rather a sincere expression of gratitude.

I am appalled by accounts I have heard from colleagues regarding the complete lack of gratitude by those they have assisted. The tales are plentiful of extremely busy private- and public-sector leaders who give freely of their time and energy to assist others only to be completely ignored. I hope these unselfish individuals who seek to build relationships by helping others don’t give up out of disappointment. The issue is why anyone would seek to develop a relationship with someone who has taken advantage of their generosity? If you are the one taking advantage of others, don’t be surprised to find yourself on your own when you are dealing with a difficult situation that you are unable to resolve without help. It’s important to remember that positive relationships start with minor acts of kindness. 

Building the connections necessary to support your leadership development and accomplishments starts with valuing what others have to offer. Leadership is all about accepting responsibility for your words and actions – a statement that’s easy enough to make, yet challenging to live up to. When you think about the numbers of individuals representing external and internal business units with whom you must work closely to accomplish your goals, there’s no doubt you will need help. Help does not come mechanically, rather it is offered because others have developed respect for you based on your treatment of them. The bottom line is that leadership is not possible in the absence of a mutually respectful relationship. Do not underestimate the power of relationship leadership: your work success and happiness are at stake.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Thinking together is unity. Working together – is success!”  –Henry Ford


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