Focus on your people

There are plenty of great books on leadership with general application to all industries. Over my career, I’ve had lots of exposure to various leadership styles and philosophies, and can honestly say that I’ve learned something valuable from every one of my supervisors. I’ve tried to take the good and the bad and compile these into important qualities that would help me develop the skills to become a successful leader.

Over time, what I started to notice was with all of the science and opinions on leadership, for me, it really boiled down to one key principle: relationships matter. All other qualities of an effective leader can really be subcategories under this one principle.

Sounds pretty simple, right? It’s not rocket science, but there is a distinguishing factor that all effective leaders possess. It has to do with the ability to manage relationships in the workplace so people feel their voice is heard, differences of opinion are respected, and they know they are valued.

Relationships matter

The foundation of any good relationship is trust. We are all human and we need healthy, trusting relationships in our personal and professional lives. We need to know others care about us.

As a leader, supervisor and manager, our employees need to know we are invested in their success. They need to feel connected to us in a way that communicates we are there not only for direction, but also support and guidance and that we genuinely want them to be successful in their job. Building this foundation is the key to all successful leadership.

Invest time and effort

Relationships take time. It’s a fact. They don’t develop overnight and they require you to make someone else a priority. Finding the time to build quality relationships helps managers learn what is important to those they supervise, what motivates them and how to provide the right amount of support/encouragement for them to excel.

As leaders we can easily get caught up in too many emails, data overload and pushing for results. We can spend too much time focused on products versus our people.

When we focus on people and building quality relationships with them, we create a culture where they feel valued and respected. With that comes action — allowing our employees to share their ideas, express differences of opinions and engage in solution-oriented problem solving. This investment builds a strong culture of collective responsibility, and creates the opportunity for creativity and innovation.

All of the necessary skills to become an effective leader start with one’s ability to build quality, honest relationships that allow for open communication and sharing. Investing the time up front with those we lead will pay off in the long run, as employees start to feel a sense of belonging to the greater good of the organization/business and achieve their professional goals, which build success within the organization.

After all, isn’t the ultimate measure of successful leadership helping others reach their potential?

Susanne Cole is the president and CEO of Pressley Ridge. Since 1832, Pressley Ridge has helped rebuild communities and families who face difficult challenges and complex situations. From mental health and foster care services to residential treatment facilities and education for children with special needs, including autism and deafness, the nonprofit empowers 7,300 kids and families each year with the ability and confidence to succeed. Susanne has led Pressley Ridge since 2011. In 2017, she was recognized as a Smart 50 winner, as well as a Pittsburgh Business Times BusinessWomen First award winner.