If you were to look back on your life experiences, I am sure, despite the thousands of people you have come across, there will be a handful of people that have made a significant difference to your life, and or your career. This is certainly true for me. The things which these influential people had in common is that they were very skilful in how they created and maintained strong and meaningful professional relationships. For example, they all gave generously of their time and had a strong sense of belief in me and inspired me to dream big.
Of all the teachers and lecturers that I have come across in my education (which spans 50 years!) one teacher stands out above all others – Mrs Short – a no nonsense English teacher who taught me at secondary school. At the end of my first year, when I was issued with my not brilliant school report, Mrs Short spoke with and said ‘Leatham, never loose your individuality – or settle for mediocrity – set your sights high and you will go far.’ Mrs Short was tireless in the time she gave to me, always went out of her way to find out what I was up to and how I was progressing, and regularly let me know when she felt I was settling for mediocrity! She shared with me her love of the theatre, Shakespeare, and art – things that I would never otherwise have had the opportunity to discover. She inspired me, encouraged me to dream big, and was tirelessly positive in her belief of what I could achieve. The positive intent she shared with me, and the strong relationship we developed had stayed with me for over 40 years.
Having spent my career working in large political organisations, where leaders are generally perceived as distant, faceless, detached figures, coaching colleagues to open up and show some emotion and personality, and sharing something of themselves was a constant challenge. Stepping out from their comfort zone and habitat into the space of others seemed an almost impossible task, but yet the same questions always surfaced each year – why are we perceived as distant and out of touch with the rest of the business – but the truthful answer was rarely listened to – go forth and develop some connection with people – show people you are human and that you are interested in them – they may well be interested in you! It’s not rocket science and yet so many leaders and people generally just fail to ‘get it’ yet alone commit time to working at building and maintaining positive relationships.
People like to know about people – we are instinctively social beings – we are tribal – inherently curious, as well as complex and emotional, responding differently to change and challenges. Like it or not, we bring all of these traits into the workplace. The happy truth however, is that even those people who say ‘we are not at work to make friends’ are mistaken. Without positive relationships at work you will fail to achieve your full potential and as a consequence, your team will suffer and your organisation will also lose out.
In a world where partnering, collaboration, sharing of resources is ever more prevalent, it is relationships in those situations that will determine their survival or failure rather than a lack of resources. For partnerships of any nature to succeed, you require trust amongst the players, and for trust to exist, you need to have established a positive relationship with those involved. If you are to operate in an open and honest way, you need to have established some degree of trust in your relationship otherwise those frank exchanges that are needed in business to develop will never happen: as a consequence, success will be at best limited.
It is a fact that some people are better at developing positive relationships in the workplace than others, however, the good news is that we can all improve our skills in this area. It costs nothing other than time, and a positive intent to make things happen. There is a plethora of fantastic academic research that highlights why relationships in the workplace are important, not least, when we have a network of positive relationships at work it feels good – they make us feel involved and connected and without question they enhance our feeling of well being and being valued.
I very much endorse the research of Kim Cameron and colleagues that was carried out in 2014. This research identified some straightforward and mindful practices that have proven business benefits:
- Being genuinely interested in your colleagues – what they do, and what they are interested in both inside and outside of work.
- Treating everyone with respect and compassion.
- Emphasising the meaningfulness of work.
- Providing support for one another.
These mindful practices will lead to the development of:
- Personal resilience.
- Mutual trust and respect.
- Creativity and the ability to think innovatively.
- Improved loyalty and an increase in discretionary effort.
The bottom line impact sees an increase in:
- Financial performance.
- Customer satisfaction.
Do you believe you could improve your approach to creating positive relationships at work? Improve how people engage with you? Perhaps you could try being a little more open about your aspirations and your dreams with your colleagues?
By adopting the above principles into my everyday life over many years, I feel as though I have much more to contribute to those around me, and at the same time, comfortable with the reality that not everyone will “get” me – and that is fine with me. They probably would never ‘get me’ no matter how I behaved! If you feel this is something you, or colleagues in your organisation, could benefit from then I would be delighted to speak with you further and explore the magic that can be found by engaging in positive and mindful relationships at work.