Relationships & Leadership

Feb 08, 2024

A major shift in leadership today is the role that relationships play in leading your team. Leadership and relationships, though, have had a turbulent history. In the era of centralized power (1945-1970), relationships were not encouraged. In fact, they were discouraged. The leader was the boss. The worker was the doer. It worked back then because every part of society was built around hierarchy – work, home, school, governments, and faith communities – not so much now. In the workplace today, the results of top-down leadership are higher turnover, lower morale, and inconsistent performance.

In the era of shared power (1970 – 2000), relationships became more important. Solving problems required collaborating with team members and others. Effective coaching required knowing who your team members were and what motivated them. The role of the leader was to “manage and motivate” people, and that required a relationship.

As we’ve moved into the era of given power (today), building a strong work relationship with team members is essential. You need the power in the hands of your team today, and you need them mentally, physically, and emotionally ready to use that power to drive growth. A strong, robust relationship with everyone on your team is a requirement. It’s impossible to help someone grow and create higher performance without building a good relationship. I live in Athens, GA, and follow the Dawgs. When I hear athletes talk about why they came to UGA, I hear a common theme, “I have a great relationship with my coach. My coach is helping me improve and get better at my game.” 

Follow these 5 important guidelines to build strong work relationships with your team that will create growth and higher performance.

First, understand the difference between “caring” and “taking care of.” Caring means that you have a genuine interest in the person’s growth and development. If someone is successful, celebrate that success. If someone is struggling, invest time to understand “why” before you help them build a plan to get better. But… it is their responsibility to do their job. Leaders often confuse “caring” and “taking care of.” Leaders sometimes do things that others should be doing. If a team member is struggling, care enough to help them understand why and build a plan to improve. Never, though, do the work for them.

Second, care about the human being. Helping someone grow begins with understanding who they are, what is important to them, and how work connects to everything else in their life. Everyone is a human BEING, not a human resource.

Third, care about the role. You hired them for a specific role. This is where development should be focused. Role growth is the key to performance growth. They may be a great person, but if they can’t grow in their role, they’re not a good fit for your organization.

Fourth, celebrate growth. The more you celebrate and reward growth, the more engaged, energized, and focused people will become.

Fifth, examine your assumptions about people. Like it or not, your assumptions about people will determine whether you understand them or judge them. The tendency with many leaders is to judge people who do not think and act like them. There is also a tendency for most people to make generational assumptions that justify their generation rather than understand the other generation. Three assumptions can help you develop your team in ways that lead to higher performance and growth: 1. Most people have the capability to perform at higher levels than they currently perform. 2. Team members want a strong, healthy, honest work relationship with their leader. When team members feel supported and understood, growth and higher performance are easier and happen faster. 3. We are genetically wired for growth – both physically and cognitively. Create the right environment and relationships, and people naturally grow and perform at higher levels.


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