Relational Leadership Opens Doors to Success

By Ian Gibson, CPHR

A wise sage once said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. That is the crux of relational leadership. Leadership can no longer simply be about the bottom line, about meeting quotas or sales targets. While those things are still important, they must “share time” with caring for those you lead—taking time to know who they are, not simply what they can do for you.

Relating A Tale of Two Bosses
We all function much more effectively if others recognize and affirm who we are. We feel valued, and as a result, we are more inclined to produce quality work because there is a relational partnership taking place vs. simply showing up and doing a job. Why does it work? Here are two scenarios to consider.

Scenario #1: Your boss comes into your office and asks how it is going. You know he wants you to rattle off stats and progress to date because that is the only time he comes to your office. After you “report in” to him, he turns and leaves your office with a curt, “Good thing you’re on target. Better not let it slip,” and he is off.

Scenario #2: Your boss comes into your office and asks how it is going. You are able to share with him that your aging mother is finally adjusting to living in a care home, but you are still struggling with some guilty feelings about putting her there vs. bringing her to live with you. Your boss sits down in your office, encourages you not to feel guilty, and invites you to drop by anytime to talk more if you wish. He then asks how your client load is and if you are up to date with follow-up calls. You tell him that you are a bit behind and the response is to block off some time in your schedule to be able to catch up. He then leaves your office, encouraging you to drop by if you want to talk about your mom another time.

Which boss would you rather work for? Which one makes you feel valued as a person? Which one would motivate you to “go the extra mile”?

Go Through vs. Throw Through Coaches
Unfortunately, Scenario #1 happens far too often. There are too many people who have been made “leaders” who don’t know how to talk to people about anything other than end results. They are motivated by the “bottom line” and how they look to their superiors. However, for those who do care about their staff’s well being, it is amazing how the goals and outcomes seem to be taken care of without too much fuss. While the destination is important, we must ensure that the journey is also given the recognition it deserves.

In the world of sports, you hear of coaches that players would “go through a wall for” and other coaches that players would rather “throw through a wall.” The “go through a wall for “ coach is usually identified as one who is fair, who cares about the players both on and off the field and who is as interested in their personal well-being as he is in their performance on the field. I would call this relationship leadership.

Availability and Recognition Crucial
The joke in our office is that the hinges on my door will never need to be oiled—they are in constant use. While it’s not quite that extreme, by making myself available to staff to talk about a client, a proposal they are working on, an aging parent, a relational difficulty or whatever else may be on their mind and heart, they know that my office is a safe place for them to be heard.

Having said that, a leader must be able to protect their own time, and often times a simple “can we discuss this at …” acknowledges that time will be made for the staff person, but this particular moment is not an opportune time. The key is to quickly slot that time into your calendar and follow through on your promise..

Current research shows that over 50 per cent of people are unhappy with their job. The number one reason for this dissatisfaction is lack of recognition—not praise, but simple acknowledgement of them as a person. This dissatisfaction comes from feeling “like a number” wherein “no one seems to care about me.”

Relationship Leadership: You Had Me at Hello
So how do you “do” relationship leadership?

  • You could start by greeting each staff member in the morning—simply go by their office to say hello with no other agenda;
  • Follow up on something they have previously shared with you—anything from a sports game they were involved in to a family matter they shared. If they or a family member has been sick, ask how they are doing;
  • Send a personal card for their birthday, anniversary, etc;
  • Depending on the size of your staff, meet with them one-on-one at least once a month. If the staff is larger, meet in small groups. Make the agenda “how are you doing?”;
  • Get to know them and be willing to open up about yourself also; and
  • Set some time each day when you are accessible to your staff. Let them know that this is their time to come by with questions, concerns and issues, that whatever their agenda is, you are available for them.

The ROI of a Caring Workplace
Ultimately, we spend more time with the people we work with than with almost anyone else we know. As a leader, doesn’t it make sense to care about them beyond the tasks they have been hired to perform? It’s amazing how a healthy, caring workplace promotes job satisfaction and quality work.

To those who are already practicing relational leadership, keep up the good work. To those who are skeptical or who “don’t have time for it,” I encourage you to look around and find a group of content employees and ask some questions. I am almost certain that one of the first reasons for their contentment will be because they feel valued and cared for by their employer/supervisor.

To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your staff can do for you. Ask what you can do for your staff”. It will revolutionize your workplace and make you a leader that people are willing to follow for all the right reasons.

Ian Gibson, M Ad Ed, CPHR is human resource/labour relations manager at The Gisborne Group—one of Western Canada’s leading industrial contractors.

(PeopleTalk Fall 2017)

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