What Are Your Key Relationships?

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.

Paul

 

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Fear in the Workplace

Long before I founded Midwest Consulting Group in 1990 I worked in a variety of organizations in management roles. One thing I noticed was the presence of people who seemed to be in fear much of the time. I came to understand that Fear is a reality in many working environments. You may define workplace fear differently, but what I sensed and saw were some of the following fears:

  • Fear my boss will fire me; I could be without a job, lose my house, etc.
  • Fear people will realize I don’t really know what I’m doing.
  • Fear others will think my ideas are silly or unworkable.
  • Fear I’ll be viewed as not a “team player” if I disagree with plans or priorities.
  • Fear I’ll make a bad decision, support an unsuccessful initiative, or chose the “wrong side” in disputes within the team.
  • Fear of . . . some unknown something that might happen someday.

Recently I worked with a nonprofit arts organization where most of the above fears seemed to be operating. Even the director exhibited some level of fear. As you can imagine, the atmosphere and energy around the group was decidedly negative; people were constantly watching their back.

In “The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers” Freedom from Fear is described as the “foundation” of Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships. When the relationship is one based on Fear, the higher-level aspects – honesty, trust, personal interaction, acceptance, good communication, development and growth, mutual benefit – simply cannot happen.

Over the next several posts we’ll examine the components of successful relationships. As our colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus says, “It’s all about the relationships.”

Paul

Teacher vs. Coach – II

Shortly after the 1st edition of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers was published I posted some thoughts about one of the important roles you fulfill in the course of your work – Teacher and Coach. Based on the number of times that term gets searched on the blog, maybe it’s time to explore that a bit more.

Teacher

As a manager we can work with people whose skill level and job knowledge vary considerably. Particularly when the employee is new to the organization or your team, you are likely to be in a Teacher mode. You are teaching when orienting them to the team or the job; you teach them about the culture of the organization and the group. What do they need to know in order to be effective in their specific job and as part of the team? You teach them about the standards and expectations for performance, quality, communication, attendance, participation, and how much freedom they have to make decisions on their own. You make sure you give them plenty of feedback as they learn and progress. Once they demonstrate the appropriate level of competence in the basics of their job, you can shift toward more of a coaching role.

Coach

The role of a Coach is different from that of a teacher and involves a different set of skills. At the highest level it requires a well-developed sense of awareness about each employee’s talents, skills, and needs. Knowing when an employee needs some encouragement and positive encouragement versus when they might need corrective feedback or bit of refresher training can involve some subtle differences. Asking open ended questions can help lead the employee to figure out what needs to done without you “telling” them what to do. Once the employee has successfully mastered the basics of their job you can increase the level of involvement they have in managing themselves. Obviously that doesn’t happen right away; you want to empower them but must do so purposefully. Beware the “aimlessly empowered!” Of course the two sides of this coin are not mutually exclusive. You will likely move back and forth on a continuum between teaching behaviors and coaching behaviors. What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people? Do you have a firm grasp of when to teach and when to coach with each personal on your team? PS – for a great take on the difference between Coaching and Feedback, see what executive coach Mary Jo Asmus has to say on the topic. You’ll find an excellent post on her blog at Aspire-cs.com. As she points out, Coaching is future-oriented while Feedback is focused on what has occurred in the past. She says, “In the end, coaching is about ‘letting go’ of advice-giving and assuming the person being coached is whole, smart, and understands the best direction to head in.”  Good advice from one who knows.

As a manager, how adept are you at knowing when it’s time to shift from Teacher to Coach?

Paul

A Bit More Buzz

Writing The 8 Essential Skills was certainly an adventure. Producing and promoting the book is turning out to be another adventure. Colleague, coach, and friend Mary Jo Asmus recently interviewed me about the book and posted portions of the interview on her blog. Wally Bock, who writes the always-interesting Three Star Leadership blog, is a regular reader of Mary Jo’s writings, spotted the reference and requested a review copy. Now we’ll see what Wally thinks.

8 Essential Skills for Nonprofit Managers

For those of you managing nonprofit organizations – we’ve been asked to develop a 5-session workshop series for our friends at ONEplace@KPL. This series is designed for entry to middle-level directors and managers in all areas of nonprofit organizations (executives, programs, services, administrations, operations, fund development, communications—anyone who supervises others). Each session will be 2.5 hours and will run on five successive Monday’s from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

Interested? You can learn more by visiting the workshop announcement and topic schedule at ONEplace.  And while you’re visiting, don’t forget to check out the rest of what Bobbe Luce, her staff, and her network are doing – it’s great stuff!

Next Time: More Communications Stories from the Trenches.

PS – watch for my upcoming interview about “The 8 Essential Skills” on Mary Jo Asmus’ outstanding blog, Leadership Solutions.

Skill 3 – Building Successful Relationships

Your success as a leader will be built on a foundation of two things: (1) your ability to get things done or accomplish tasks, and (2) your ability to forge and sustain positive relationships with other people. True leadership means focusing on both tasks and relationships. No matter how driven, focused, and hardworking you may be, you won’t be effective in life unless you can develop solid, healthy relationships. In today’s organization your ability to build successful relationships with employees, peers, your boss, and customers is a key skill – one that can help move you and your unit ahead or significantly hold you back.

What do you think? Of the 8 Essential Skills, it seems to me that Building Successful Relationships are another key skill. As colleague and coach Mary Jo Asmus says, “It’s all about relationships.” So, what do you think is involved in Building Successful Relationships?

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