When it comes to professional or community partnerships, how authentic are your relationships? As a self-aware leader, it is important to not only understand your own leadership style, but to be aware of how others interact with you and on your behalf. I like to say that I have people sitting on my relationship couch, standing nearby, and others that are pushed aside.
In this article, I break down what it takes to make, build, and maintain authentic relationships that grow your organization.
- REAL. Be the real YOU. Lead with your own personal style and personality. No one is as YOU as YOU.
- INTENTIONAL. Avoid the immediate ASK. Instead, build relationships that are authentic. You don’t want your network to see you coming and wonder what you need. Instead, build a network that asks how they can help you.
- TIME. Be cognizant of others’ time. Don’t force your desired time style on others or use phrases like pick your brain. Be clear in what you’re asking, and what you need or want.
- COMMUNICATION. Be realistic in your expectations. Don’t force your style on others. Invite people to events which are appropriate for your relationship with them, separating personal and business, if needed.
- TRUST. This is hard to obtain and fragile to keep. Recognize that trust is built over time. When someone says they’d like to tell you something in confidence, keep it to yourself.
When you act in these ways, you’re being yourself while at the same time creating authentic relationships. These relationships will change over time and may be challenging. Understanding yourself as a leader and communicator will help you find where you need to grow or let go of relationships.
What’s your leadership journey like?
No two journeys are the same, but we can learn from each other and be authentic with the people we meet. Think about who has been part of your leadership journey in the past, who is with you now, and who you need for the future. Those are the people on, near, or off your relationship couch.
If you opened the contacts in your phone or went through your LinkedIn connections, who do you have a relationship with today? Who has helped you in the past? Who might help you reach your goals for the next quarter, year, etc.? If you’re the leader I know you are, or strive to be, then there are likely managers, mentors, and friends who have guided and supported your journey over time.
One of my mentors from early in my career, for example, is now a close friend and confidante.
When I met her, I observed what she was doing and how she related to people to meet the objectives of our organization. It was through observations that I realized I wanted to ask her to be my mentor. She told me that she would if I made a commitment of time and effort; that translated to deep discussions about my goals and often homework. It helped her get to know me and prepared me to grow in my journey as a leader. Today, she is behind my relationship couch, cheering me from the sidelines and while we still talk shop, so to speak, we are friends at heart.
As a self-aware leader, I know being ME isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I also know that I have people who love and trust who I am as a woman leader and person of color in an ever-changing world. Not everyone is going to love you either and that’s fine.
Understanding my own leadership style has helped me understand which authentic relationships I need on my couch as my career evolves.
Where I am today, as a leader in the nonprofit arena, speaker, and entrepreneur, my relationship couch is filled with professionals who understand the nonprofit world as well as those who are business owners and leaders. While I don’t have an official mentee of my own, I look forward to a time when I can pass along my knowledge to a young leader, like I received years ago. That wouldn’t have happened unless I had made an intentional connection, was specific in my request, and my mentor was open to working with me.
The relationship couch of today has changed as my own goals have changed. Becoming an entrepreneur has been a learning curve so it has helped to have the support and guidance of other women (and men) business owners. While similar in many ways, managing a business is different from running a nonprofit. There are different ways to set up the business structure and accounting systems, networking in different circles, and having the mindset of a consultant, to name a few.
Because I juggle different opportunities, I must be cognizant of how I spend my time. I’ve learned that I can’t say yes to everyone and picking my brain meetings are never happening. That has helped me understand and respect how others spend their time and how we can make the most of our meetings.
As for the future relationship couch, I know it will change from who is on it today. I am always looking toward next quarter and year. If I can define where I want to be, then it is easier to find people to support me in the areas in which I am in need. Identifying media and networking opportunities as well as growing my staff are top on my list for the future.
As you review your authentic relationships, think also about the people you’ve lost from your relationship couch. Whether they left on their own or were asked, they played a role in your leadership journey. Perhaps there are people who started as coworkers and then became friends. Others may have been more of a transactional relationship in that they were important for a period but not currently. They’re all part of your story.
I cannot express enough how important it is to take personal inventory of your authentic relationships as you develop your career. Be yourself. Be intentional. Build trust. Communicate clearly and be respectful of others’ time as well as your own. This will help you find the missing pieces that empower you to reach your goals. It’s not enough to have thousands of connections; it is how you develop authentic relationships that truly grows you as a person and professional.
Questions to Ponder:
- Who is on your relationship couch today? Do they match your goals? Are they friends and not colleagues now?
- What are your leadership goals?
- Who do you need on your relationship couch to reach your goals?