Provision #665: Relationships Matter

Laser Provision

Great leaders don’t just get things done; great leaders get things done through people. That’s the definition of leadership. Unfortunately, all too many leaders neglect or even violate the people side of the equation. We become so focused on getting things done that the needs of people get stepped on or trounced in the process. “Do whatever it takes!” If that sounds like you, then I encourage you to read on. This Provision is an invitation to think again. The needs of people must always be respected, honored, and met; otherwise, results suffer and leaders fail to get things done.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I wrote about the importance of getting things done when it comes to leadership. I put it this way: Results Matter. If leaders don’t get results, then chances are they won’t be leaders for long.

This week we look at the other side of the coin. Leaders don’t just get things done; by definition, leaders get things done through other people. When I go out and mow the lawn, I get results. But that doesn’t make me a leader. That just makes me a good worker. When David Mellor, the Director of Grounds for the Boston Red Sox, goes out and organizes his crew to mow the lawn at Fenway Park, including one of his famous patterns, that’s leadership. Mellor has to focus not only on results, but also on the people who he calls and relies upon to get those results.

When it comes to leadership coaching, which I do quite a bit of in a variety of contexts, it’s the people side of the equation that most often gets leaders into trouble. More than once I have been asked the following when it comes to working with an executive, principal, director, superintendent, or manager: this person has great technical skills, and wonderful potential in the organization, but he or she has been alienating peers and subordinates alike. Can coaching turn that around?

My answer is always the same: it depends. It depends upon many factors, both internal and external, individual and organizational. Bad people skills do not develop in isolation from organizational cultures. To shift the dynamics surrounding someone’s people skills requires us to pay attention to the big picture. Do they want to change? Do they believe change is possible? Will the organization support the change? Once trust has been broken, it takes time and effort to turn things around.

Understanding these and other dependencies, many leaders and organizations decide to move forward with coaching. I usually start with one or more assessments, to get a sense of someone’s behavioral styles, personality type, as well as their strengths and values. Three assessments that I enjoy using are the DISC, the Enneagram, and the Values in Action Signature Strengths Questionnaire. They bring into focus the various dynamics that come into play with each individual leader.

From there, we turn to the application of those dynamics in terms of how they relate to the emotional and relational intelligence of the leader. No style, type, strength, or value is intrinsically better or worse when it comes to leadership. Each can have healthy and unhealthy expressions. Through coaching, it is our job to make leaders as healthy as possible.

One of the frameworks that I have found especially helpful when it comes leadership coaching is the concept of trust as developed by my wife, Megan, in her book, Trust Matters. After recognizing the inherent tension between results and relationships, as well as the tendency of some leaders to focus too much on results (the leader as “boss”) and of other leaders to focus too much on relationships (the leader as “buddy”), my wife identifies the middle way of successful leadership in terms of trust (the leader as “broker”).

Great leaders inspire trust. As a result, they enable people to stay focused on the task at hand without losing sight of their humanity in the process. In their presence, work becomes a joy. That’s not because they make work easy; on the contrary, great leaders often get people to work harder than those who simply crack the whip. That’s rather because they make work engaging. They recognize and honor the many needs of the people they work with; as a result, they inspire people to do their very best for the cause.

In her book, Megan identified five things that trustworthy leaders pay attention to and demonstrate in their relationships with the people they work with: benevolence, honesty, openness, reliability, and competence. These five ingredients or facets inspire trust because they meet important, universal human needs. When people have their needs met and respected, trust is sure to follow. Although there is no simple, one-to-one mapping between the five facets of trust and five universal needs, it is instructive to look at how those facets relate to the needs identified on my Wheel of Needs diagram.

  1. Benevolence. Trustworthy leaders authentically care about the people we work with. Such caring meets many needs, but especially our needs for safety, empathy, community, and rest. It’s impossible to trust someone if we don’t feel safe with them, understood by them, connected to them, and comfortable around them. In the push for results it’s easy to neglect these important needs. When that happens, trust deteriorates and results suffer. It becomes a vicious, self-defeating cycle. The harder we drive people at the expense of their needs the harder it becomes to win their cooperation. Without cooperation, leadership becomes dictatorship and invites revolution.
  2. Honesty. Honesty is what honesty does. Honesty itself is a universal need. Apart from authenticity, integrity, clarity, and congruence, leaders will be viewed with suspicion. We see this repeatedly in high-profile situations where leaders violate a standard or norm and then seek to hide that situation from the public. Think Tiger Woods.  The cover up becomes worse than the crime. The lie gets leaders into more trouble than what they actually did, often because the lie enables them to keep violating those standards or norms for longer periods of time. Understanding this dynamic, trustworthy leaders hold themselves to high standards of honesty.
  3. Openness. Openness and transparency also meet our need for honesty. You can’t lie about what you don’t hide. All leaders are at times privileged to confidential information and keeping such confidences are part of the job. But there is a difference between the benevolent honoring of confidentiality and the malevolent keeping of secrets. The latter undermines trust, especially when leaders let things slip or get caught in a contradiction, while the former builds trust. Openness also meets our needs for community, autonomy, challenge, and transcendence. The more people know about what is going on, the more they can choose to participate in the process of getting things done.
  4. Reliability. People can count on trustworthy leaders to do what we say and to say what we do. Walking the talk enables leaders to meet many needs, including our needs for understanding, community, work, challenge, and autonomy. Leaders set the pace when it comes to work ethic and self-management. Both cavalier and controlling leaders make for dysfunctional teams. Cavalier leaders don’t care enough about results, and don’t work hard enough themselves, to inspire the passionate pursuit of the possible. Over controlling leaders micromanage people in ways that compromise their autonomy and stimulate resistance. Neither approach is a formula for success.
  5. Competence. Trustworthy leaders not only work hard, we also know what we’re doing. I would not want to get on a plane with a pilot who lacks the necessary skills, training, and experience. The results could be catastrophic. Although leaders do not often work in such life and death situations, we are called upon to demonstrate expertise in our areas of responsibility. That’s why leaders have such a strong commitment to lifelong learning. Expertise is never static and never finished. It we want to meet such important, universal needs as contribution, productivity, growth, and even subsistence, then we have to become both students and masters of our craft.

Needs matter when it comes to leadership because relationships matter. Leadership is about getting things done through people. When we fail to inspire trust, we fail to lead. When we fail to respect, honor, and meet the needs of the people we work with, we fail to lead. No one is perfect, but respecting, honoring, and meeting the needs of people represents the stated intention of all trustworthy leaders. We do not take people and their needs for granted. Instead, we treat them as a sacred trust and the crucible for getting things done.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of attention do you pay to relationships? Do you inspire trust in the people you work with? What needs do you naturally pay attention to and honor? What needs are you more likely to overlook or neglect? How can you become a more holistic leader? Who can help you to get where you want to go?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation. 

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.

I am loving this Provision series on leadership. My strengths and limitations along with my coworkers’ are becoming clear. You continue to open me up to new possibilities along this trek called life. I appreciate having this bit of you in my life each week. Thank you!

The meditation that comes to mind given the topic of your last Provision, Results Matter, is to add to the clear and in-depth visualization of one’s desired outcome, (which I suggest as a meditation or guided imagery process), ‘this•.or something better.• This cultivates openness both to the many ways that you can move forward to achieve the desired end, but also to stay open to new and better ends as well. 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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