What is an engaged relationship?

In his blog of 12th April, Jon Gordon talks about the importance of building engaged relationships in order to build winning teams and businesses. He says:

“When you make the time to engage people and nurture relationships you’ll realize that the quality of your business, family and life is determined by the quality of your relationships. After all, it’s not the numbers that drive the people but the people and relationships that drive the numbers.”

I absolutely agree with this and everything I do in my work with leaders across a large range of organisations is based on building strong, trusting relationships with staff and customers alike. But what does that mean? I know people who immediately resist the notion because they think they will be expected to share their personal and social lives with colleagues. They worry about people stepping over their personal boundaries and may begin to question the other person’s motives. Perhaps they are right to be cautious in those situations.

So how do we decide what is appropriate to share  in a business relationship especially when we are wanting to build what Patrick Lencioni refers to as vulnerability based trust – that level of sharing that builds empathy and starts to break down silo’s and competitive posturing. For me it has to do with knowing ourselves first so that we can show ourselves to others in full knowledge of how we impact them and our relationships.

For example, I am naturally a pretty open book. Because I share my life fairly easily with people, they in turn open up to me.  My friends and I enjoy deep, confiding relationships.  If I am on a two hour train journey with a stranger, chances are by the time we reach our destination we will have built rapport and know about each others families, jobs, and interests. At work it is essential to get to know each other at a deep level but it has to be based on authenticity, empathy and respect for personal boundaries and privacy.

Bottom line? Building strong working relationships means knowing our staff well, knowing how they think, their preferred communication style, what is top of their minds, what their strengths are, what motivates and excites them, what is worrying them. It also requires that you open up to them by owning mistakes, apologising where appropriate, and acknowledging that you don’t always know the answers. In other words, owning up to being a complex and fallible human being.

It also helps if you know the names of their children, where they went on holiday, what their interests are, but proceed with care. Let the ball remain in their court about how much else they share. Be alert to respond if they want to share more but don’t demand it. Being pushy about knowing more about their personal lives doesn’t build trust and potentially undermines it. Question your motives.

  • What do you think?
  • How are you building relationships within your team?

4 Responses to What is an engaged relationship?

  • I agree Carol and you will remember how when we have co delivered coaching programmes we explored the pitfalls of being an internal coach at the same time as being the line manager. Similar pros and cons to take into account.

    Worst case scenario is when managers have pushed for personal information and then abused the trust by breaking confidentiality or changing “hats”(roles) during the exchange. Better in that case to have kept away from personal information at all.

  • Totally agree! I run a session when I’m working with first-time managers where we reflect on leaders they have been led by and what makes the great ones great. A personal connection is always on the list, backed up by them respecting boundaries, privacy and not abusing the personal information they’ve chosen to share. Seems like a winning combination!

  • Julie, I like how you’ve captured the importance of achieving a balance between sharing enough of yourself to have a great relationship but not so much that it destroys privacy or forces the other person to reveal more than they want to. I also agree that it’s critical to know yourself first so you can have a “real” relationship with others. Often, in leadership development, there’s too little emphasis on dealing with your own demons and too much on how to fix others’ flaws. Thanks for an excellent post.

    • Thanks for your comments Mary. Glad you liked the post. I agree that self awareness and self management are the foundations of outstanding leadership. I think Joshua Freedman said it’s about “knowing yourself and showing yourself, with skill.”

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