Weekly Intention – Interpersonal Relationships

02.13.13 | Posted in Birkman Method, Weekly Intention

Question – how are you at interpersonal relationship building? Is this something that you’ve mastered and have no issue building strong relationships with everyone? The key word in that question was “everyone!” Most of us, if we’re willing to admit it, can build strong relationships with certain people and then we struggle with others. But, Ed, isn’t that true for everyone? Probably, but UnCommon Leadership requires not being ordinary and like everyone else! We strive to drive deep relationships and bonds with people that are very different than us.

In a recent Harvard Business Review blog titled Bad Leaders Can Change Their Spots, Jack Zenger, CEO and Joseph Folkman, president of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy firm, cited data from 545 relatively senior executives who participated in recent leadership development programs in three different organizations — a large bank, a large high-tech communications company, and an Ivy League university (not affiliated with Harvard). Through 360 assessments, they were judged on how skilled they were in the 16 attributes Zenger/Folkman found through their research to be the most essential to leadership. And, here’s the punch line: the flaws most commonly tripping up the at-risk leaders in the survey were related to failures in establishing interpersonal relationships.

And here’s some rather startling data from their study:

They also found that as leaders climb higher in an organization and the ability to motivate others becomes far more important, poor interpersonal skills, indifference to other people’s development, and a belief that they no longer need to improve themselves come to haunt these less effective leaders the most.

Pretty shocking on the one hand, but Zenger and Folkman’s research mirrors what I’ve been seeing the past fours years as an executive coach with numerous projects coaching at-risk executives.

With quantifying data to back up my beliefs, the question is what do we do about this if we want to become a true UnCommon Leader? The title of our weekly series says it best – get intentional about continuing your development with regard to interpersonal relationships. It requires true “kaizen” – constant and never ending improvement and the willingness to embrace those with whom you may not normally embrace!

If this is such a common issue for leaders, then is there a root cause? Yes. I believe there is and I’ve written about this in other blogs.  It comes down to two issues; 1) most leaders just do what they do, and 2) they don’t really realize how their normal leadership style impacts other people. Think about it – some people will like a person’s natural leadership style and others will be repelled by it. True? Kind of reminds me of the punch line of a very old joke – “I don’t know Charlie, there’s just something about you that chaps my a@#s!”

This is why the UnCommon Leadership model espouses the “personal” and “personalized” approach for leaders to drive true high-impact leadership skills.

 Here’s a question as a starting point for this week’s learning and application – Who do you work with or lead that you really get along well with? Why? What makes the relationship work? Is it easy and do you find it comes natural? Then, the opposite – who do you work with or lead that you really clash with from time to time and have conflict with? What’s the trigger for the conflict? What happens that keeps you from forming a strong bond with this person? Think about why the big contrast? What’s coming up for you?

Chances are, the person or people you really get along with are a lot like you in your leadership style, interests and even values. And, conversely, the ones you’re clashing with probably have major differences in styles, interests and values, right? So, what to do? Practice what organizations have been preaching for years – acceptance of diversity for what it is – a chance to learn and grow from people who are very different from you and who think and see things from different perspectives! As leaders, we love to talk about valuing the differences, but if we’re really honest most of us struggle when there are sharp contrasts in leadership and communication styles. And, that advice is so often a lot easier to give others than it is to take!

Here’s an example to consider. You are action-oriented, take very little time to make decisions and value getting things done now. You have a direct report that seems to you to block your initiatives to make things happen quickly. You see them as an impediment to getting things done. They are slow to react and take forever to make decisions as compared to your style.

Something very similar to this example was a case study at our last Birkman Users Conference by a major company seeking a huge, multi-billion dollar government contract. The remedy came when a Birkman consultant was brought in to work with the team. The team consisted of five action-oriented, get things done now people (in Birkman terms – Red/Red/Red/Red!). And, one member who wanted to think things through and take his time to evaluate the impact of the short term decisions on the long-term project (Blue needs/stress). The majority valued checking off the progress of the project on the Gant chart while this poor, suffering person wanted to make sure they were heading down the right path. The highly skilled Birkman consultant took the team through the process of “valuing the differences” using highly valid data from the Birkman Assessment. Once the team realized that the lone member was different, not because he was a jerk, but because he valued and used different strengths and skills to get things done, the team began to thrive and actually produced the bid sooner than required. And, the executive from the company gave the team building established by the consultant credit for their company winning a huge contract that had been in jeopardy up to that point. What did they do? They were INTENTIONAL about building strong, interpersonal relationships because there were high stakes involved!

So, the next time you find yourself struggling to get along with someone ask yourself this question – What do I need to do to move toward them and to fully understand and appreciate who they are and the value they bring that is different than me? Keep asking that question and I’ll bet you find your answers! And, in the process you become an UnCommon Leader highly skilled at building interpersonal relationships with everyone!

Onward & Upward!

Ed Chaffin


Human Relations In Business: Developing Interpersonal & Leadership Skills  Michael G. Aamodt

Effective Human Relations:Personal & Organizational Applications                    Barry L. Reece


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