What Makes A Great Work Relationship?

post from Graeme Findlay:

I just finished reading
one of Dan’s previous posts, I’m
your boss not your friend
. He has some very sound advice and ten
good reasons why it’s a bad idea for a manager and an employee to call
themselves friends.

On reading the post, I
was immediately reminded of a high-priced leadership development program that I
once attended where we were presented with a different view. The model
presented can be paraphrased by “Relationships are the foundation of all accomplishments;
increase relationship and you increase results”. Taken to its logical
extension, where relationships are universally good, this model fails for all
of Dan’s ten reasons and more.

The problem with this
model is a common one: over-simplification of a nuanced phenomenon. In their
desire to have easily digestible ideas, proponents of leadership models generalise
and simplify. And if there is one thing that everyone needs to know about
leadership, it is that it is specific to the context and that it is inherently complex.

This specificity and
complexity should not deter us; leadership can be understood if we put the
effort in. Let’s take this example of relationships.

Building close working relationships
with a trusted inner circle of colleagues is a key leadership capability. I
call this capability the Heartfelt Voice. The heartfelt voice
is not about building friendships as we generally understand them. We need to
get more granular and definitive about what we mean.

A ‘friendship relationship’
is a function of mutual care – if you care deeply about me, and I care deeply
about you then we are friends. There is no doubt that this can be leveraged to
deliver great results at work, but at other times it is an impediment and can
work to actively undermine results.

To make sense of this,
I define another aspect of work relationships which I call Relatedness.  Relatedness is
not based on mutual care, it is based on mutual connection to a purpose. You
and I might be complete strangers, but if we both share the same purpose, then
this is the basis for delivering results. Relatedness to common purpose is an
incredibly powerful motivator for collaboration. Therefore, building
relatedness is a key leadership capability.

The sweet spot for
leaders is to have both relationship
and relatedness. This is the
heartfelt voice of leadership. A leader with a strong heartfelt voice builds
high levels of relatedness to a common purpose, and then amplifies this by fostering
an environment of mutual care and respect amongst an inner circle. Unlike ‘friendship
relationships’, the mutual care is not person-specific. Rather, the mutual care
extends equally to every member of the team. This is fertile ground for high
levels of respect and trust between team members.

The environment
described here is that of Psychological Safety which consistently emerges in
research as a key foundation of high-performance teams. The heartfelt voice is
the essential foundation of great leadership. I can think of no better reason
to put aside oversimplified leadership models and inquire more deeply into
great leadership.  

Graeme Findlay is author of Evolve: 
How Exceptional Leaders Leverage The Inner Voice of Human Evolution
and an
Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School.  He consults
to industry as an executive coach and change management advisor.  Prior to
specializing in leadership development, Findlay held executive management roles
and was accountable for delivering operational transformations and performance
turnarounds on world-scale mega-projects.  His passion for high performance
teams led to academic research at Oxford University and HEC Paris.  Findlay
holds a Master’s degree in Consulting and Coaching for Change.
 For more information, please visit www.graemefindlay.com.