One Bridge At A Time: Building Leadership Through Personal Relationships
Updated: Mar 13
It’s easy to get caught up in the grind of day-to-day tasks; emails, deadlines, metrics, meetings, and urgent issues conspire to devour every moment of some workdays. It takes both effort and commitment to reach out, hit the figurative pause button, and focus on the things that really matter… things like the people we interact with every day.
As important as all of the day-to-day details are, people and culture are what fuel our organizations. As servant leaders, how can we more effectively lead by building stronger relationships with our teams?
First off, though it may sound obvious – make effort to get to know your team. Set up 1:1 check-in with your direct reports and be intentional with your conversations. Building supportive and honest relationships with team members can set a powerful foundation for professional collaboration. Remain curious about people’s preferred communication styles and do your best to honor those whenever possible.
As you build connections with your team members and cultivate trust, chances are you’ll witness the added value of creating a safe space for people to simply be who they are. It’s amazing the creative ideas that start to flow when people know they can take risks and be themselves! When diversity of thought is actively valued within an organization, the effect can be exponential; innovation flourishes when new ideas are celebrated instead of sidelined. In honoring diverse strengths, it becomes easier to know who the right person might be for a specific job; you’ll see a full range of abilities on display and have a clearer understanding of what your team is capable of. In relationships, the power of recognition – simple, honest, constructive and timely feedback – should never be underestimated. Whether given at the team level, in one-on-one interactions, or in a more visible group setting, acknowledgment and recognition can help cultivate awareness of individual contributors and grow mutual appreciation. Silos can be a natural occurrence in a fast-moving work environment; acknowledging small victories and celebrating together can help break down those potential barriers.
Recognition is more powerful when provided regularly, and with consistency. Provide feedback to your team members as often as possible, offering coaching, suggestions, and acknowledgements of a job well down. When coaching for brilliant performance, the most powerful adjustments happen through consistent, patient support; highlight the positive, be clear on measurable, and offer suggestions on how to improve performance. While end-of-year feedback can serve as a nice tool for high-level reflection, your employees should have a clear idea of how they are performing throughout the year. It’s our job as leaders to keep the lines of communication open, providing constructive, actionable feedback.
When people feel seen and valued, they are more invested. We know that emotionally invested employees make powerful contributions in the workplace; learn how to motivate and invest back in your employees. Use check-ins to help create synergy between their goals and the needs of your organization. What type of assignments do they enjoy? Is there a skill you can support them to grow? Do they perform better working remotely one day a week? This form of collaboration not only helps to build up your workforce, it also signals to employees that their development and satisfaction are prioritized.
Stephen Covey said, “The first job of a leader—at work or at home—is to inspire trust.”
To bring your entire team along with you, you have to draw them in; create a culture built entirely of insiders. Explain the “why” behind big decisions (when possible); share your vision for the big picture! Transparent leaders help create buy-in because people can feel when they are being fed a line (hint – they don’t like it); conversely, honesty is valued due to its rarity. Foster trust with radical honesty whenever possible. Share your thoughts and ask for honest feedback; you are surrounded by experts in your business – the people working alongside you. As you work to grow a healthy, collaborative environment, be prepared; informal networks are flowing under the surface whether you can see them or not. Leaders have to work extra hard to tap into those undercurrents to gauge what’s “actually going on” in their organization. Look for points of connection and seek to build relationships across diverse groups. Make sure to pay attention to organizational dynamics, determine how to gain access to internal influencers, and learn to leverage the networks.
Gandhi was absolutely right – an eye for an eye does leave the whole world blind.
Managing team conflict is another inevitable (though not insurmountable) challenge to be prepared for. Retaliation, combativeness, spite is not useful in group dynamics. Find a solution for your team that encourages the use of conflict resolution methodologies and offer to mediate team conversations when necessary. Above all, advocating for clear communication, kindness, and honesty can help everyone navigate fraught professional waters. By embracing dialogue and talking through disagreements, your team might even uncover unexpected benefits. After all, some of the best ideas stem from disagreements.
Keeping an eye to the future can also strengthen your personal relationships. Act as an intentional mentor, share your knowledge, and plan for a changing environment. Who has the skill set to replace you in the next 3-5 years? What coaching and growth need to happen to set that person up for success? Allow team members to take turns leading small projects or team meetings; rotate team members to share responsibilities and collaborate in new ways. As you teach your mentees to lead others, they grow into confident leaders who will carry your vision forward.
Because change is inevitable, it takes effort and intention to continue building, maintaining, and growing relationships over time. Whenever possible, continue reaching out to connections even if that means sending a short note to congratulate a past colleague on a promotion, or texting a message of encouragement. It’s amazing how small the world truly is, and past relationships often make surprise appearances at unexpected moments.
Al Ritter suggests that the most effective way to build and sustain great relationships is to follow the 100/0 Principle.
In truth, responsibility for strengthening relationships in our organization lies with us – its leaders. The 100/0 principle states that the most effective way to achieve equitable relationships is by taking 100% responsibility for them. When we take full responsibility for a relationship (100%) and ask for nothing in return (that’s the “0” in the 100/0), then we hold other people able to do the same. We challenge them to show up in the same committed manner that we are… and more often they do. As a leader, I take this idea to heart. By choosing to visibly commit to our teams and demonstrate what commitment looks like, leaders provide a model for everyone around us – showing others how to build strong bridges and relationships that drive mutual growth.
At the end of the day, the most important questions aren’t, Did I return that email? or Did I hit those numbers? They are: Who did I help today? What problems did we solve? Who did I lift up? Who did we bring along? When we focus on those questions, we succeed.