Ally or Adversary? 5 Actions that Destroy Professional Relationships

(Guest Author Morag Barrett, for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

For Part 1 (5 Actions the Build Professional Relationships), click here

Remember, if relationships matter, they matter even more at work.

Your success depends on the quality of your professional relationships.

Those people without whom your success would be compromised; the professional connections that you reach out to when you have a question or are unsure of what action to take; winning relationships that empower you to achieve outstanding results together; the “I-couldn’t-get-my-job-done-without-you” relationships. It is also about those difficult and challenging relationships that drain your energy, that create roadblocks and impact your ability to deliver the goals and results expected of you, the “I-get-my-job-done-in-spite-of-you” relationships.

Improving the quality of our professional relationships at work is not rocket science, but it may as well be. We’re all so busy keeping our heads down and eyes on the prize that we can forget to look up and connect with those around us.

Here are five Don’t’s that will help ensure you create career allies and not career adversaries:

DON’T: Focus only on what you can get.

If you only contact your critical stakeholder when you need something, you’ll very quickly find that your ‘work-spouse’ might be washing their hair and unavailable! An Ally relationship is about ‘give and take’. Be proactive in offering your expertise, and ensure that reciprocity is part of your relationship.

DON’T: Stick with the usual suspects.

Many leaders put a lot of energy in cultivating relationships with those with the right title and seniority (the vertical relationships) but spend less care and attention on horizontal relationships across their business. If you’re focused only on the ‘right’ connections, your style will come across as inauthentic. I’ve worked with many leaders whose relationships have been skewed in one direction (usually up) and do not include representation from across the organization. Continue reading

How do I Repair a Broken Relationship With My Employee?

Imagine for a moment, you are the manager of a team.  You were promoted into this role either because…

  1. It was the only career path (more $$$) available,
  2. You had some preconceived notion about the glamor of ‘management,’
  3. You were the highest performer on the team at a time there was a vacancy in the manager spot, or
  4. …Well… you don’t really know why or how – you were just going well in your job, and then suddenly found yourself promoted into a manager role.  #howdidIgethere

Sound familiar?  Let’s continue.

Even though you have been in the role for a little while, there is still one person on the team that is just a struggle.  For some reason, you can’t connect with him/her.  He/she causes problems, is a poor performer, or there is something else “broken” about your relationship with that person.

Still sound familiar?  If so, you are not alone.  In fact, it happens often.  VERY often.

Oh, and the feeling you probably have that this situation is known by others, and is probably dragging down the team in some way?  You’re not alone there either, and your instincts are right.  Resolving the situation with that one person will help the team.

Now, I have some good news and some bad news.  Good news: you’re not alone, all is not lost, and you will be able to improve things if you want to.  Bad news: it won’t be easy, there’s no ‘magic  bullet’, and it might be painful at times.

So where do we begin? Continue reading

Ally or Adversary? 5 Actions that Build Professional Relationships.

(Guest Author Morag Barrett, for Real. Simple. Leadership.)

How many hours a week do you spend at work with your colleagues? 40? 50? 60? How many hours a week do you spend with family and friends? My guess is that, like many of the leaders I work with, you spend more time with your co-workers than you do at home.

If relationships matter, they matter even more at work.

Your success depends on the quality of your professional relationships.

Those people without whom your success would be compromised; the professional connections that you reach out to when you have a question or are unsure of what action to take; winning relationships that empower you to achieve outstanding results together; the “I-couldn’t-get-my-job-done-without-you” relationships. It is also about those difficult and challenging relationships that drain your energy, that create roadblocks and impact your ability to deliver the goals and results expected of you, the “I-get-my-job-done-in-spite-of-you” relationships.

Having an Ally relationship at work has been shown in numerous studies to make you a better leader, more engaging to customers, deliver stronger results and produce higher quality work. An article in Harvard Business Review reported that strong social bonds don’t just predict overall happiness, but also have a significant effect on a person’s long-term career achievement, occupational success, and, ultimately, income.

Improving the quality of our professional relationships at work is not rocket science, but it may as well be. We’re all so busy keeping our heads down and eyes on the prize that we can forget to look up and connect with those around us.

These five Do’s will help ensure you create career allies and not career adversaries:

DO: Identify who you need to connect with.

You don’t have enough time to develop Ally relationships with everyone. Take a moment to write down three critical goals you must achieve in the next few months. Next to each goal, write down the names of your coworkers who could help or hinder your ability to achieve those results. These are the critical relationships that require care and attention, and the people with whom you need to proactively invest time with to develop an Ally relationship. Remember: your success depends on this person (and may be at risk if you don’t)!

Continue reading

The Art (and Work) of Listening

I talked about listening as a key action that can help build trust (full post here) but wanted to dive in a bit deeper because it is so important.

I think we’ve all heard that we should be a good listener, right?

  • Listen to your school teacher
  • Listen to your parents
  • Listen to your significant other
  • Listen to your boss
  • Listen to a friend

…and the list goes on.

Listening truly is one of the most important ways we can build relationships, and lead effectively.

I am reminded of this blog post by Lolly Daskal, which I first read a few years ago.  The whole post isn’t very long, but I want to share a few highlights:

1) The most basic human need is to understand and to be understood.

2) The essence of listening is in silence:

Do not judge

Do not question

Do not fix

3) For many, being silent feels like being inactive. But listening is the act of paying attention, the act of consideration.

…all of which are such insightful points about listening.  Think about each one for a minute.  Such good stuff.  I agree completely with all three!  Leadership and trust are built on this understanding.

So why, then, don’t more people listen?  Why is this such a difficult skill to master? Continue reading

The Most Dangerous Threat to Culture & Leadership

Team.  Department.  These terms describe a group of people together.  We are all working together, right?

At first glance we may be, but have you ever noticed someone who just isn’t quite “part of the team”?  You may be noticing the first signs of a dangerous threat to your own culture and leadership:  isolation.

One of my favorite TV Shows, Lost, had a great scene early in the series that dramatizes the effect of isolation (scene takes place shortly after their plane had crashed on a desert island):

As you lead your team, you may not feel such a dramatic impact or risk of isolation, but maybe you did notice people who exhibit signs such as:

  • closing their office door
  • working with earbuds in, seemingly all the time
  • “too busy” for things like team meetings, team lunches or workplace activities
  • demonstrating a “just leave me alone to to my work” attitude in any number of ways

On the surface, these things seem pretty harmless.  But if left unattended, that kind of behavior can become contagious; it will start to erode your team’s culture, and undermine your own leadership.  It is important to address early on.

There are many causes of isolation, but a few environmental factors can make it more likely:

  • someone is new to the company
  • someone is new to the team, or department
  • someone works remotely, or in a different location
  • someone has done their job for a really long time and doesn’t really “need” anyone else for help
  • someone who just wants to come in to work, do their own job and go home

Individuals in these categories may simply be more likely to isolate themselves.  Many times this happens so subtly over time that they don’t even perceive it.

But I guarantee your team will be much better off if you eliminate isolation.

My advice to you, as a manager?  Be aware of these causes of isolation – if you identify possible risks or warning signs, take action!  Build trust with that person.  Connect.  Work with them and talk to them on an individual basis, in a meaningful way.  That is the heart of leadership.  Connecting with people.

What do you think?  How have you overcome isolation in a team you lead?

Comment below!

Guide to Truly Effective One-on-One Meetings

Many say an occasional “one-on-one” (aka 1:1) with your employees will build your relationship with them and help you get to know them better.  You may have thought of this practice as a “nice thing” to do when possible…

I think 1:1 meetings are SO much more important than that.  These meetings, when held consistently, can become a fundamental building block to build trust, and achieve more together at work.

These meetings can be an important part of your work, but are a vital part of your employees’ work (their engagement and development).

 It is very possible, even likely, that these 1:1 meetings are more important to your employee than they are to you.  

Think about that for a minute…

Here are my  tips for 1:1s, and some good resources I have used & shared:

Clarify the “rules of the game”

  • Don’t assume  basic details.  Almost everyone will have a different view of these meetings.  The most important part is that you two understand together what they mean.
  • Questions to clarify:  What is the purpose of these meetings?  When will they be held? Who will schedule the meeting?  How often?  Who decides the agenda topics? What might those topics include?

Continue reading

Leadership: Building Trust through Stay Interviews

Many buzzwords in the world of employment – “engagement” “retention” “turnover” “employee satisfaction” – are really revolving around the basic concept of how an employee feels about his/her job.  Does he/she like it?  Hate it?  Want something better?  This is the great mystery for companies trying to reduce retention, increase engagement, or just improve productivity and performance by keeping their top employees.  To accomplish this, I frequently share my favorite ‘leadership tool’ – a very simple idea that has an amazing ability to help leaders view things differently, take action in a meaningful way and help keep the best employees engaged.  It is called a ‘Stay Interview’.

First, consider the fairly common practice of an Exit Interview.  This will typically include questions like “why are you leaving?” or “what might have kept you here?” in an effort to understand what could improve or change to improve employee satisfaction, and curb future turnover.

I see a couple few problems with that practice:

  • The employee may or may not be share complete truth.  (The problem is, we don’t ever really know.  We likely will second guess everything, because everything they say might be either “too negative” or “too positive”).
  •  Because they are leaving, they no longer have a vested interest in actual improvement.
  • It’s likely too late to “save” them.  That time has passed… trust has likely diminished, they have mentally checked out and moved on.
  • This information is usually shared with HR, who is one step removed from the all-important Manager/Employee relationship, where understanding, communication, and trust are critical.

and the list goes on…

Now, am I advocating to stop doing exit interviews?  Nope.  They have a good role and purpose in the overall picture… but I do advocate considering an additional leadership tool – a Stay Interview.stay interview

A Stay Interview takes a very similar conversation and brings it into the midst of the person’s employment.  Find out why a person stays with the company, what keeps them here, what they might suggest to improve, etc. Continue reading