An Essential Key to Success: Managing Relationships
By W. Coby Milne
So, you are looking to have success, eh?
The world of business is built on relationships. Who you know and how you work with others are often the two biggest elements that define how successful you will become. This has been stated many times in the business world to almost every level and industry. Just to reference a few; Inc.com makes a compelling case for businesses large and small, and Entrepreneur.com echoes my views on how it is the essential element that leads to success. Harvard Business Review highlights how relationships are the key to getting promoted, and most notably; Forbes and MIT emphasize the importance of relationship management skills in leadership.
Due to the fact that this is so important, I thought I would add to the existing literature and give you my academic and professional insight because I do have a little different take on the subject.
Natural relationship managers
There are some personal and cognitive qualities that make for great relationship managers. These qualities make other people comfortable and more open to a relationship with you. The first quality is being laid back. Now, this might be a surprise to some, typically most people think you need to be a driven, ‘A’ type personality that is intense and laser-focused. I am not saying that being driven and focused are not important, they are extremely important, but what I am saying is that people appreciate relationships that are not draining or exhausting. Rapport is built when there is a calm and relaxed connection between the parties. I have defined what I mean by ‘laid back’ and went into detail about its impact on leadership, rapport, and your professional career in one of my previous LinkedIn articles titled: The One Quality That Everyone Appreciates Above All Else.
The second quality that is really important for the relationship manager is self awareness. You need to truly understand and be comfortable with yourself. A relationship is made up of at least two pieces, you and the other person. It is critical that you understand your strengths, weakness, areas that you can deliver on, when you can provide value, when you need to ask for help, what are reasonable timelines and commitments, and how to articulate all the above. Knowing yourself will breed the efficacy needed to capitalize on the opportunities that strong relationships will bring.
The third quality to note is having perspective. Being able to see the relationship from other people’s point of view allows for greater insight and utility of that relationship. Perspective allows you to keep empathy and compassion at the foreground of the relationship and it allows you to see if the relationship is in balance or becoming one-sided. Perspective also allows for resilience in the relationship; if challenges or issues arise, having perspective allows for the understanding that will help weather any storm.
Now, as I go back and reread the paragraphs above, it dawns on me that 95% of my points above are as relevant to a personal relationship as they are to professional ones. This shows the versatility of successfully managing a relationship and how critical these qualities are in making a meaningful connection with other people.
Your professional reputation is often what people are buying, hiring, and partnering. How you build your reputation and professional profile is by building and maintaining strong relationships.
Relationships are like plants, they need to be nurtured to grow
When building meaningful professional relationships it is really important to think of them as something that needs to be cared for and cultivated. One of the most important things to consider when building strong relationships with people holding a large professional influence is to value that person as much as you value their position. Very often we make a professional connection and we are excited about the access that crafting this relationship will give us, but remember, when an opportunity is knocking it is both the person who does the knocking and the one doing the answering. This means that there is a person behind the position and if you make an authentic connection with them it goes a long way to strengthen the relationship with their position.
The next tip to cultivate professional relationships is – following. In this context, that means following through and following up. Professional accountability and reliability are the only real ways to show that a relationship with you is worth the time it takes to build. When you make the initial connection, you need to cement that connection by following up with them, hence showing how you value the time it took to connect. The consistent action of always following through on what you say you will do is what sets good relationships apart from shallow ones. Following through is probably one of the best professional characteristic that I can advise people on when you are talking leadership. A reliable person who always follows through on what they say they will do is the optimum person to have leading you. Being that person really reinforces my earlier comment in the self-awareness section.
Business is built on relationships. This is why there is so much focus on networking, the hidden job market, and why most business deals are done over the dinner table, not at the boardroom table. Your professional reputation is often what people are buying, hiring, and partnering. How you build your reputation and professional profile is by building and maintaining strong relationships. Relationships are not meant to be a means to an end, they are a long-term investment. The wiser you are in managing your investment will determine how much it pays off. So, whatever you do and however you are planning to upgrade your leadership skills, make the effort to become a strong relationship manager. As long as there are people doing business there will be a need to build and maintain the relationships that come with that business.