Leadership and relationships are easy to maintain when everything is going well. People love your product or service. The bottom line is strong, your staff is amazing and your board or shareholders praise you at every turn.
It is during these periods, when everything is coming up roses, that people tend to forget the importance of the relationships that brought them there.
Uh-oh, you need help
Then, you hit a bump in the road. Faced with challenges impossible to conceive just days ago, you quickly realize you need help. But whom do you call? The mentor who you have not spoken to in weeks? The board member whose project you failed to deliver on, or even explore? The manager you cut off when they were presenting a new idea? The staff you ignored for the last few weeks while riding your wave of success?
Since there was some commonality that brought you together in the first place, strong relationships will be strong again with some attention and nurturing.
Everyone’s patience, however, has a limit. Repeated cycles of inattention and insensitivity will eventually weaken or kill a relationship.
Keep your friends close
There have been countless times I wished someone had taught me the value of networking and relationships when I was younger. Having moved constantly, it seemed normal that once you left, friendships drifted away as well. I now work every day to preserve and grow the relationships I have while creating new ones.
Each week, I set aside time to handwrite cards or thank-you notes. Not a massive pile, but at least three or four. Rarely do those personal notes go unacknowledged. Time permitting, an occasional personal phone call to say hello, check in and hear how someone else’s day is going also goes a long way. Even a personal text or email can work wonders.
Work on tough relationships
The greatest relationship challenge, the one that really takes work and patience, is maintaining a difficult relationship — someone with a different perspective, who disagrees with you often or with whom you seem to be perpetually arguing. And yet you know, this relationship is important and worth investing in.
Bridges burned are difficult if not impossible to rebuild. Too often, people forget that you can disagree without being disagreeable and argue without being argumentative. Constructive feedback is not only useful, but critical to achieving success and excellence. Maintaining difficult yet necessary relationships is a sign of an effective and mature leader.
Notes and phone calls usually are not enough to turn such a relationship around. In fact, that often may be impossible. Separating and applying valuable feedback even in the midst of personal attacks, fear and stress takes great courage and humility. Patience is key, as is understanding and empathy.
Successfully employing these skills improves difficult relationships, making them more productive and sustainable, while also inspiring others to do so as well. In the long run, inspiring others and building successful relationships is one hallmark of a truly great leader. ●
President and CEO
Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership’s mission is to inspire and develop the global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation.