Mary Jo Asmus, my long-time colleague, coach, and friend frequently reminds us, “it’s all about the relationships.” As we work with management teams and individuals one question that deserves asking is, “which relationships are most important to you?” It’s a simple question, but one that really does benefit from thoughtful consideration. After all, not every relationship in your work and your life is equally important to you and to your success. And yet, one of the major reasons the failure rate for newly promoted or hired managers is so high (40% in the first 18 months!) is failing to build cooperative working relationships with employees or peers.
Your Manager – In most cases the relationship with your manager . . . your boss . . . is pretty high up on the importance scale. During several decades of working in organizations I reported to a variety of different bosses. Some were excellent managers; some were mediocre managers, but all of them gave me a fair amount of freedom to do my job as I thought best. That freedom was great, but it also meant I seldom had much in the way of detailed expectations about what they wanted.
If your particular boss is a big-picture person – intuitive, future-oriented, a bit bored by all the details, you’re unlikely to get a lot of specific details . . . well, about much of anything, to be truthful. That means getting the details figured out is up to you. If your boss has a constant laser-like focus on the details of your job, good luck – you are working for a micro-manager. Regardless of their style, it just makes sense to pay attention to building and maintaining a healthy relationship with the one you report to.
Your Peers – You also have key peers . . . other supervisors or managers who are generally on a similar level in the organization. Maybe they are “upstream” or “downstream” from your unit or team. In other words, their team’s results or output has an important affect on how you and your team produce your results. Or, the peer’s team may be the primary recipient of your team’s output. In either case the relationship between you and the peer (and realistically between your team and theirs) is really a key relationship.
Your Employees – Almost certainly your direct reports . . . your employees . . . are important relationships for you. After all, the results they produce have a huge impact on how you are perceived as a supervisor. Great results and you are viewed as a good manager. Crappy results and you are viewed differently. Perhaps a long-time employee is about to retire and you need to do some succession planning so you don’t lose their experience and wisdom when they walk out the door. Maybe a new member of the team seems to be struggling to find their place in the group. Whatever the current situation, building successful relationships with your employees has a direct bearing on your success as a supervisor or manager.
Assessing Your Relationships
It makes sense to give some thought to the relationships in your professional life. Which are the “key” relationships? Who are the people whose good opinion you value the most? Who has the ability to help you or hinder you professionally? Once you are clear about which relationships are most important, then you have to ask yourself to honestly (and I mean being really honest) about the current state of those relationships. Which relationships could use some improvement? Is there a key relationship that needs work if you are going to be successful in your current job?
How would you rate each of your working relationships on a scale of 1 – 5? A 1 or 2 would indicate lots of room for improvement, while a 5 would be a successful relationship . . . good communications, high levels of trust, the ability to count on the other person’s support, the willingness to resolve questions and issues cooperatively . . . all those factors that go into building successful relationships.
Give the questions some thought. Next time we’ll have a few suggestions that may just help improve a key relationship or two.