October 2015

Leadership Influence Through Relationships

What's the connection between leadership influence and relationships?   You'll know if you ever tried to get something like advice, or support, or collaborate with someone who didn't want to help you.

I am currently working with several leaders each with different leadership roles, in different industries at different points in their lives.  What they share is a blind spot around their ability to influence effectively, and the direct tie to the relationships they have (or haven't) built.  

More about them in a moment.  First let's look at where we usually focus attention.

Managing Conflict

There are lots of very good books and workshops about managing workplace conflict.  Almost every company I work with offers a "Crucial Conversations" session for leaders on a regular basis or as part of a 'core curriculum'.  What I don't see is an emphasis instead on how to  build relationships to influence effectively and then manage healthy conflict when needed. 

Really great leaders earn the trust and respect of their people and peers through the relationships they foster.  That's real and lasting influence.  They don't do it with title or power or by being 'right'.  They do it with genuine care, concern and humility. 

Relationships Matter

Back to my  clients.  They each intellectually understood the concept of building strong relationships in order to be effective leaders.  So why haven't they done it?

It takes time and effort to build relationships that matter, in parallel with getting the work done.  The hard part was agreeing to take the time to first understand which most critical relationships needed to be built (or repaired), and then to focus on those relationships over time.

In one case, the leader had alienated most of her key peers and superiors in the mistaken belief that moving quickly to achieve results independently was most important.  Without their support, she hit a wall and was no longer able to achieve cross-functional cooperation for an important system-wide change.

Relationship Circles

I like to make things as simple as possible, even when looking at the complexities of building effective relationships.  Simply identifying the most important relationships was step one. 

Step two involved drawing a picture where the clients placed a small circle in the middle of the page representing themselves.  The identified important people were represented in circles surrounding the client, at distances that represented how solid each relationship was, with arrows indicating how influential the relationship was in both directions. 

The size of the circles drawn represented how important these people were to my clients.  The thickness of the arrows indicated how effectively they were influencing these people today.  

Then the picture was drawn again in terms of what it would look like if those relationships were strengthened, and the effect on influencing successfully, and ultimately achieving better results.  


Each client built a plan to revisit those important relationships, and change their current picture.  In each case, the repairing or rebuilding was actually easier than expected.  

One client had a face-to-face meeting with a senior leader whose support was critical to her work, and through just one meeting, cleared several past misunderstandings, and gained the support she needed through the senior leader's staff.  


Try creating your own picture of the most important relationships in your world, using the circles and arrows.  You might be surprised at what you see, and what might help you become a more influential leader through strong relationships...!

"Leadership is influence." - John Maxwell

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The best leaders make simple shifts or practical changes for big results.  I work closely with leaders to create practical solutions to achieve real success. Let me help you discover what's possible. Visit my website www.terrihughes.com for details.

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