“When leadership is a relationship founded on trust and confidence, people take risks, make changes, keep organizations and movements alive.” – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Have you ever noticed that its much easier to get things done when you are working with people you trust? I certainly have. There is ease, satisfaction, and sometimes even joy working towards a common goal with those whom you’ve developed solid relationships. I’ve also noticed that leaders who focus first on building relationships often are far more successful, than those who are singularly focused on getting things done. People naturally want to work with leaders who care about them and are invested in their success.
In their classic book The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner relay numerous case stories and research studies that reinforce the importance of relationship-building skills for leaders. According to their 20 years of research, leaders who demonstrate strong social skills and get along well with others, take time to build relationships with their subordinates, and work to see a situation from someone else’s point of view, experience the most success.
Knowing how important social skills are, what can leaders do to enhance their ability to build solid, trusting relationships? Here are a few thoughts:
- Engage: Open up dialogue by asking good questions. Questions about people’s expertise and point of view are great starting points to build relationships. Just a simple, “What do you think?” question can be a good start.
- Listen: Let other people talk and then pay attention. Focus on what people are trying to convey and reflect back what you’ve heard. Take time to understand what other people do. Stay open to new ideas and embrace learning new things from others.
- Acknowledge: Value people’s contributions. Give credit to others for their contributions and successes. Celebrate accomplishments of your team. People are always more motivated to work hard and try new things if their efforts are acknowledged.
Most important, remember that relationships take continual care and feeding. It’s not a one and done proposition. Since I’ve returned from work after being on medical leave for a year, I’ve been working on rebuilding relationships with my team and others. It’s a work in progress. I’m holding regular 1:1 meetings with each of my staff and bi-weekly team meetings to build more collaboration and camaraderie.
What tips do you have for building solid, trusting relationships at work?
My grandfather was a master painter and wallpaper hanger and I had the amazing fortune to work for him for over 20 years. One of the many lessons I learned from him was that you have to deliver the basics to get the opportunity to become a true master at your craft. The first years that I worked for him I spent much of my time painting the insides of closets or the priming coat of paint. Strategic leadership also has a foundation in delivering the basics before moving to the strategic.
Rosabeth Moss Canter, in a November Harvard Business Review article, highlights that successful strategic leaders are those that have mastered execution and implementation by following these four imperatives.
Question everything. Force yourself to challenge your assumptions and tackle “sacred cows” that exist in your organization or industry.
Inform everyone, then empower champions. Focus on both breadth of awareness and ideas and depth of committed support. Share information broadly and ask for all ideas to ensure that you are considering all options. Then take action to support your early and enthusiastic adopters to demonstrate early results.
Keep relationships tight and rules loose. Build a large network of people who are comfortable sharing good and bad news with you. Focus on creating a shared vision and trust and then giving people the freedom to take action and make decisions based on their expertise.
Modify quickly. Recognize and be willing to acknowledge bad news or challenges. Learn from what isn’t working and modify as soon as possible.
Developing a strategy and announcing it isn’t enough, you have to dive in and get the closet painted.
Strategic plans, work plans, goals, action items, tactics, timelines… these are all fantastic tools for strategic leaders. They are important, and even necessary, to help leverage people’s work efforts and accomplish organizational mission. But we all know that our best laid plans can be disrupted by problems and opportunities during the year.
In those cases, what is a strategic leader to do? Abandon all hope of strategic planning and just go with the flow? Dump your plan and stay in reactive mode? I think not!
One strategy my team used to plan for unexpected problems or opportunities was a priority-setting brainstorm session. We identified criteria that should be used in prioritizing the activities we already have in our work plan as well as any new work that might emerge during the year. Some of the questions we explored included:
- How should we set priorities?
- What criteria do strategies or activities need to meet in order to be included in our work plan?
- What goals and guiding principles should we be consistently supporting as a unit?
- Does new work need to meet ALL priority-setting criteria or just some?
It was a fruitful discussion that helped us anchor our work plan and work priorities in overarching goals for our division and the system. We discussed the impact of our work, our customer’s needs, and the environment in which we work. We also had a useful conversation about how we want to work together as a team, and we agreed upon our own set of operating principles.
Since that conversation, I’ve noticed some of my team members have been more mindful of high-level priorities and have increased confidence in setting boundaries with other colleagues. In fact, just today I was copied on an email one of my team members sent to a colleague, explaining that a particular project would need to sit on the back burner until her higher priority work was completed. Now that’s leading and working strategically.
Becoming a transformational leader can seem intimidating. It can seem like something you are either born to be or not. In reality it all starts with getting your daily steps in. Sometimes called “management by walking around” as described in the Tom Peters and Bob Waterman 1982 bestseller In Search of Excellence.
An article in one of my favorite resources for leaders, the website MindTools: Essential skills for an excellent career, highlights how to connect with your people and build the relationships that lead to transformational work by getting your steps in!
“Management by wandering around” does require more than just aimless chatting or random office visits. MindTools encourages leaders to:
- Relax – take a deep breath, calm your mind and make it easy for people to be open with you.
- Listen and Observe – take the time to understand your people and demonstrate genuine interest in their perspective.
- Be Inclusive – wander everywhere, strategically plan to connect with your whole team.
- Recognize Good Work – encourage people to share what they are proud of and give specific compliments.
- Spread the Word – share what you hear with others and share what you know about the work being done.
- Embrace Chat – learn more about people’s non-work interests and lives. Demonstrate that you are aware they are more than just what they do at work.
- Don’t Overdo It – don’t hover over people or become a distraction.
- Review Your Conversations – assess what you have learned, take action and solve problems.
Transformational leaders know their people and know their work.
Standardization and consistency are necessary but not sufficient if you want to be a leader that truly helps your people thrive. As my humorous picture depicts: people are not the same! They need different sizes and types of leadership from you. Different strokes for different folks informs individualized consideration which is the fourth I of transformational leadership.
Individualized consideration focuses on the importance of leaders recognizing the unique characteristics of each person on their team, respecting and valuing their uniqueness, and most importantly taking different actions based on their unique needs and strengths.
The first step starts at a personal level. Individualized concern asks leaders to genuinely demonstrate awareness and interest in the individual needs or concerns of their people. Next your leadership actions must vary and be customized to bring out best in each person on the team.
Sounds challenging and it is. However small steps matter and people appreciate authentic interest. Informal conversations, purposeful checking in, listening and being open to new perspectives will help you detect what is important to each person on your team. Do they like data? Are they drawn to the concerns of others? Do deadlines energize them? Are they focused on new ideas? Do they want clear processes or structure? You get the idea.
Acknowledging the uniqueness of the people you lead and supporting them so they can leverage their strengths will unleash the potential in your team.
Last Wednesday, my team and I met for a long overdue planning session. (The photo featured here depicts some of our work.) Usually we conduct these every summer and spend a day off-site to re-focus on our mission, review our collective work from the year before and to set goals and priorities for the year ahead. Needless to say, due to staff turnover and my absence on medical leave, we didn’t get around to this important task until October.
In our two-hour abbreviated planning session, we still made time to include a discussion on each person’s “big ideas” for enhancing the programs, services, and resources we deliver to our campuses. And we talked through a draft workplan for this year in record time. While it wasn’t ideal…I would have liked to have had more time for everyone to discuss their ideas in detail…it was a start to reconnecting as a team and continuing to c0-create a desired vision for the near-future.
When I look at the Bass’s 4 I model of Transformational leadership, planning sessions are a key tool that leaders can use demonstrate Inspirational Motivation. If you recall from last Monday’s post, it was defined as:
- Inspire and motivate followers by providing meaning and a sense of challenge to their work.
- Involve followers in creating a desired vision for the future
- Communicate clear expectations
- Demonstrate commitment to shared goals of the team
Team planning sessions involve followers in creating a desired vision for the future. Documenting what happened in those planning sessions through a workplan can help set clear expectations and demonstrate commitment to shared goals. In addition, making sure that your team is grounded with a set of guiding principles or goals helps to provide meaning for everyone as they work together and contribute to the good of the organization.
What other tools, processes, or behaviors have you used to demonstrate Inspirational Motivation? Please feel free to share your expertise and leave a comment below.
It takes more than saying the right things to be a transformational leader; you have to do the right things! And that takes work.
Through their work transformational leaders demonstrate Idealized Influence, the first of the 4 I’s that Anita described in her post on Monday. Just like the lead biker in a team time trial, they don’t just have a powerful message or good ideas. They lead by example. They are the type of leader who isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work along side you.
In fact, through their actions they become such a positive role model that people are inspired to follow. The following actions or behaviors are often listed when people describe a transformational leader. They:
- Walk the talk
- Would never ask you to do something they wouldn’t do
- Stay true to their values without worrying about outside opinions
- Spread enthusiasm and integrity
- Provide real-life examples through their actions
- Take personal risks when it is the right thing to do
- Inspire through action
Becoming a more transformational leader is a lot of work, but the trust and engagement you build can set the stage for success.
Posted in building teams, Engagement, Leadership, leadership development, leading authentically, Motivation
Tagged engagement, integrity, Leadership, leadership development, motivation, transformational change, transparency, trust, values