There is possibly no more profound truth that life is as much about your relationships as it is about your own personal development. Only in building and nurturing those links with others do you really participate in the human condition. It is also clear that no leader in history really did it on their own and that while it is important to build personal ability and develop skills it is as important to surround yourself with people that can support you and ultimately also employ people to achieve shared objectives.
We get relationships from everywhere
The greatest places to meet people are through education. When you are studying you tend to meet people and share ideas and concepts with likeminded individuals with some similar interests. Throughout life you may also meet people through events, clubs, parties or a million other ways. Every person that you meet and spend some time with is a potential relationship and if you take the time to get to know someone you tend to end up meeting them again and again.
Choose your friends and your enemies wisely
Some of the relationship advice out there suggests that you must change your relationships and get rid of relationships that are not contributing to your success. The idea is that you can simply evaluate each person in your network and determine if they are adding value to you and if not – then you cut them out and make and keep new friends that do add value. There is simply value in every relationship, even the hard ones, and it remains important to develop and maintain healthy relationships with a wide spectrum of people. Often losing a relationship also inadvertently creates a person that would be negative or vague about you in future.
Building long term relationships
Anyone that has been in sales for an extended period of time will tell you that often the 100th time you follow-up with an old contact, something magically transpires and a deal or opportunity opens up. Often friends that you met 20 years ago have risen in their organisations and are now successful. While it is natural to link relationships to sales – it is as important for career advancement, growth within an organisation and for learning and sharing with others. Often the statement “lonely at the top” becomes real when you realise that as a manager it is difficult to build confidence with people that work for you – for fear of exposing yourself. You then need supporters outside of your existing organisation that can guide you and whom you can learn from and share ideas and knowledge with. Even in your organisation it is important to have sponsors and people that have your interest at heart when decisions get made – and the question becomes what you do to nurture those relationships. People go back to relationships from their youth, as these are often not tainted with illusions of where the person is now.
A core network for success
An idea that is forming is that you need a core network of people to make a team function effectively. Malcolm Gladwell in the Tipping point suggests that as a minimum you need a maven, a connector and a salesperson to form an effective team. The maven watches the bottom line, the connector links you to the outside world and the sales person talks up the business. Research also shows that networks are as big a factor as any in achieving business success.
The ideal team
The ideal team comprises of a range of players, each having strong relationships with each other. Team managers often ignore the strength and importance of the relationship factor in teams. Some organisations use the Belbin or other methods to assess a person’s team roles and try to build an ideal team to support success. An ideal team would be one in which people take one or more roles and build on each other’s strengths.
One such a proposed team is described (see below for descriptions)
- The Champion
- The Executive Sponsor
- The Devil’s Advocate
- The Executor
- The Monitor
- The Sales Butterfly
- The Stakeholder Manager
By putting together the ideal team the idea is that you can achieve more than the some of the parts as everyone plays a key role. One of the challenges is that teams tend to change over time and it remains important to build a strong relationship between team players. People also change their roles according to what is required in a team and you may find that people develop strengths because of other people’s weaknesses.
So while we may not all choose whom we work with we can all be better at relationship management. Some of the people skills that may help you succeed are listed below.
Humour. Humour allows you to have something to say, and to diffuse tense situations. Scientist think that humour is a way that we relate to people and test what is acceptable in a specific context without overtly challenging the status quo. It also helps to take a joke and never to take things too personally.
Patience. Patience is a life skill that is very important in relationships. A relationship may not always go anywhere but with patience it will be meaningful and worthwhile.
Active listening. Active listening requires you to actually take an interest and listen to the other person – often making eye contact and taking in the information being presented and showing insight and action orientation in relation to their ideas. Active listening is a key relationship skill.
Empathy. You need to see a situation from the other person’s perspective to appreciate where they are coming from.
Being flexible and open. A friendship and a long-term relationship require openness. While it is never a good idea to discuss your salary – it is good to share your ideas and approaches openly with people so that you can both learn and grow together. Agreeing to be honest always helps and forms the basis for strong relationships going forward.
We can all become better at nurturing and encouraging our relationships and while it is tempting to think that just because someone is your friend on Facebook or a contact on LinkedIn that you now have a strong relationship. You may use Keith Ferezzi’s idea of never eating alone and using every meal as an opportunity to build a relationship or take a simple approach and ask yourself when last have you communicated with each person in your network and how you can work towards building a relationship with them.
The ideal team
The ideal team
There are various schemes to explain the ideal set of team members and the seven people you need to succeed in business as a minimum is outlined below.
The Champion: The champion carries the vision and inspires the team with passion, patience, tenacity and making things happen. They rally people to the cause and manage the effort. The ideal champion sees the big picture and supports the team in managing the flow of information. They’re good at knowing when to speed things up or slow things down. In short, they have the experience and nature to operate intuitively and achieve success within the area of the business. It helps if they care about the cause and experience does not hurt either.
The Executive Sponsor: The executive sponsor promotes the cause, ensures that there is funding and also plays a critical role in representing the project and removing roadblocks in the process of delivery. Without a sponsor the change in an organisation is extremely painful and would likely fail. When adversaries understand that this person is in your corner, they will be less likely to attack or passively resist your plan. The ideal executive sponsor lights the scoreboard up. They are in the midst of making great things happen in their life and when you need a jolt of creativity, business brainstorming or a push, they are your person. They move fast and don’t have much patience for indecision. They remind you that if you miss a shot that you must just keep shooting.
The Devil’s Advocate: This is the person who will find the weaknesses, poke holes in your strategy, ensure that there are no gaps in a plan, and that will always challenge the base assumptions. They ask the difficult questions no one else will, and is not afraid to challenge you. You want this person in a team as they looking out for your best interests but can sometimes stand in the way of achieving anything at all. The ideal devil’s advocate is one that also can come up with practical suggestions on how to solve the problems they identify and that have good technical skills in the business. When they know how the clock ticks, what is wrong and what needs to be done to fix it – you do not mind that they found the fault.
The Executor: This individual politely harasses people into accomplishing tasks on time and under budget. The executor is a relentless taskmaster who enjoys crossing things off the list. You need this person: they will execute on the strategy you’ve set in motion. A great executor is both loved and hated. Their genius is holding you accountable to what you said you were going to do. They are metric-based and measure success by the progress you do or don’t make.
The Monitor: This person is your data wiz. They are constantly analysing the available information to determine how initiatives are performing, both internally and externally. They bring information that shows actual performance versus expectations and ideally compares it to what is happening in the real world. A good monitor jolts champions into action, gets executives the right information and supports the executors to get stuff done. They know the health of the situation and have a good idea of what is going to happen here. They dig deep and present relevant data that influences decision-making without bombarding with irrelevant information or causing analysis paralysis. The ideal monitor is a veteran. When all hell is breaking loose, they help you remember what’s most important. They make sure you don’t mistake the forest for the trees. They know that goals are great but sometimes we just lose sight of why we are doing whatever we are doing in the first place. You need them to keep you grounded and supported.
The Sales Butterfly: You need an early adopter both internally and externally that lets people know about the cause. They become the face and the poster that reassures everyone that the initiative is still alive. Most sales butterflies already have a lot of followers or have a personality that attracts people in droves. This person is fond of people and loves company and you can find them chatting and speaking to people all the time. They are also fun, smart, and engaging and it does not hurt to be good looking. This person will be the one everyone else emulates and want to be like and they are the “face” of the campaign. Brilliant sales butterflies are both knowledgeable and connected and work on matching the interest of both the client and the organisation.
The Stakeholder Manager: The Stakeholder manager ensures the internal and external teams are running smoothly. They are the diplomat, the questioner and a nurturer. They like to keep the community healthy and happy and everyone having the right information to get their part of the picture done – without being a controller. You need the stakeholder manager to create projects that people want to be part of and. The stakeholder manager is one of the most underestimated players on a team. They do the work that many don’t see and they don’t regularly show up in the statistics. But when they’re around, you always seem to be at your best. During tough spells they support you with perspective and their never wavering commitment.