Power with People
Power with people is one of the six leadership principles I explain in my latest book You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere Can Make a Positive Difference. We live and lead in such a transactional world that we need to remember the importance and primacy of relationship building. Genuine relationship with people gives us power with them because they trust us to act in their best interests.
Relationship building has both an emotional an economic component. It drives individual and collective progress and affects the quality of our lives and our businesses.
Unfortunately, most of us learned about relationships by watching older people, most of whom didn’t know how to build relationships either. This article is a collection of observations and ideas about relationships that I have found useful. I hope you do as well.
- Deep relationships are rareRecently reported research in most major newspapers found that the average American has three close friends, down from four a decade ago. Many of the people we loosely call friends are actually acquaintances. If we don’t recognize the important relationships in our lives and invest in them accordingly, we can spread ourselves mile wide, while our meaningful relationships suffer from a lack of time and energy.
- There is always an element of mysteryThere isn’t always an apparent reason why we click with some people and not with others. Chemistry is as important in non-romantic relationships as it is in romantic ones. However, trying to force chemistry is almost always a fruitless proposition.
- Relationships usually end for the same reasonDisequilibrium is a primary reason why relationships end. This is when one person feels that he gives more than he gets. (I’m omitting unconditional love reserved for familial relationships.) If a relationship seems to be faltering, do a quick assessment of value: Are both parties benefiting?
- Some relationships grow while others goSometimes relationships end because of choice. John Maxwell says there are relationships for a season and relationships for a reason. When that season or period of life is over, so is the relationship. Often circumstance requires us to work with someone. When the task is over, we find that reason for the relationship is over as well. The end of a relationship isn’t always a reason for grieving. Sometimes we just need to accept the seasonal—or “reasonal”—nature of relationships.
- Relationships are like gardens, not ATMsI’ve had people approach me with a kind of relationships demand: “Be my mentor/friend/advisor/etc.” It is like going to an ATM: insert the appropriate card and password and instantly receive the desired payout.Relationships are like gardens. Plant seeds. Not all will grow, but those nurtured and cared for, over time, blossom and bear fruit. Never plant a seed and expect fruit in the next instance.
Maybe that is why deep-rooted relationships are rare: they require much nurture and attention.
Differences between Transactions and Relationships
Much of what we do each day as businesspeople and speakers is transactional. We focus on our interactions with others to achieve specific outcomes. In many exchanges there simply isn’t the need for relationship beyond common courtesy. But for those people we value, in business and life, we need to distinguish between the transactional and the relational.
|Courteous but impersonal
What you get
Stay in touch
Understand the process
Judge the results
Evaluate the results
|Friendly and personal
What you give
Understand the person in the process
Evaluate the relationship
Evaluate how you feel about the results
Some Relationship Guidelines
- If it begins in a hassle, it ends in a hassleThe beginning of any relationship is particularly important because it gives clues about the possibility for long-term success. Beginning in a conflicted state will most likely only make it worse. That’s why “forcing” a relationship isn’t a good idea. If I encounter resistance or difficulties early on in a new relationship, I often bow out—diplomatically, of course.
- Be your best selfAuthenticity is key: Be yourself and be your best self. We are all a mix of strength and weakness, both decent and base nature. Being oneself is often an excuse for inexcusable behavior. While relatives put up with our worst, friends and colleagues should experience our most authentic and best selves.Representing yourself falsely dooms you to acting for the balance of the relationship, disappointing both yourself and the recipient in the process.
- Interested trumps interestingThe secret to success with another isn’t sharing the most interesting experience or story, but in being interested in that person. The world is starved for people who really care and who don’t believe that their navel is the center of the universe.
- Empathy rules the dayYou aren’t always going to feel the same way as a client or a friend feels. But you can work hard to understand why the person feels that way. Empathy, the ability to understand without necessarily feeling the same way, and is the antidote to indifference.
- More information doesn’t create a better relationshipDr. Louis Koster says, “50% of communication in most groups consists of arbitrary opinions, gossip or complaining that doesn’t contribute to creativity, team collaboration or productive results.” Don’t think that spamming friends and colleagues with information will improve your relationship. Instead, aim for the exchange of meaningful ideas that will be valuable.
- Conflict avoidance often signals the beginning of the endA clue that you may not really care about another person, or that you care about your own comfort more, is an unwillingness to work through conflict. Unaddressed conflict will almost always diminish, if not destroy, a relationship. One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by colleagues is how to deal with a disagreement with someone in business. My advice is always simple but direct: Address it. Until you talk about it, you can’t know whether the situation can be resolved.
- If you value the person, don’t ever waste his or her timeUltimately, time, the raw resource of life, is all we have. That’s why purposeful interactions prove we value the other person. In a time-compressed world, most of us can’t devote time to those who are simply “staying in touch.” I prefer “keeping in relationship” as a philosophy. That means I don’t need to engage in mindless contact to keep myself in someone’s awareness. Instead, I can devote time to meaningful exchange.
What Might You Do?
First, consider conducting a relationship review. Are you spending time on low-quality relationships that neither you nor the other person really value? Why keep going through the motions?
Are you short-changing the important relationships in your life by trying to keep everyone equally happy? This isn’t a quantifiable process, but a way to get more out of your time and your relationships. (When I get a call from a complete stranger who wants an hour to ask me questions, indulging him or her effectively cheats my family, friends and colleagues along with my business.)
The result of such a review might result in both downsizing and upgrading, that is de-emphasizing some relationships and reallocating time and energy to those that matter most.
Some of the best relationships I enjoy challenge me intellectually and spiritually. Scott Peck believed that love was about the commitment to another’s growth, and that makes sense to me. But that doesn’t mean that we should only be doing the challenging; we need friends and colleagues in our lives who love us enough to tell us the truth and shake our cages.
Think About This
Nobody acts in a vacuum. Individual actions affect the larger group. As a fellow leader of visibility, you have every right to be disappointed in me, or me in you, if either of us does something that reflects poorly on our position of trust.
There are no rules, just responsibilities. Despite what Outback says, we are responsible to ourselves and to those with whom we form a relationship.
Of him or her much is given, much is expected. I am most disappointed in myself when I don’t appreciate what another has done for me, nor reciprocate that generosity in an appropriate way. And in complete honesty, there have been disappointments in others whom I extended myself to but who seemed either not to notice or appreciate my efforts. I try to keep a long memory for the first and let the other go.
“Be kind. Everyone is fighting a tough battle.” Phileo Judaus said that a couple thousand years ago and it ranks among the best advice I’ve ever seen for getting along with others.
Watch my back and I’ll watch your back. Like my friend Waldo says, he’s my wingman—he’s got my back. You’ve got to love someone who is looking out for your best interests. And that’s the beauty of our NSA relationships.