Even in this digital age, the most important deciding factor in your career journey is to remember that leaders who build strong career relationships earn more trust and achieve better results with all their stakeholders. This also applies to communication leaders themselves and to the advice they may give as respected advisers to their organizational executives.
One of the most respected leaders in our time is Leon Panetta, who said in 2021:
“It is human relationships that determine whether or not you’re going to be successful”
– Leon Panetta, former US Secretary of Defence, CIA Director, White House Chief of Staff, and Member of the US House of Representatives, stated on 21 January 2021 during a media interview.
Panetta says our relationships with other people are such a vital part of our lives. During this time of stress for all of us, it is vital we reach out consistently to our friends, family and colleagues – our personal stakeholders. And we should be reaching out to our business colleagues also – internally within our organization and externally as well. This is even more important during times of massive societal stress as we experience in the current pandemic.
Speaking of relationships, let’s consider the Public Relations Society of America’s current definition of public relations:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
This definition strongly corresponds to Leon Panetta’s quote, above, that maintaining good human relationships is key to success. Organizations consist of one or more people, and publics consist of one or more people, so Panetta’s quote applies to the vital role of relating to people in our society. And what is the foundation for building good relationships? It’s good communication, of course!
“Mastering personal relationships that build trust and create a collaborative work environment is central to leadership effectiveness in the digital economy. This skill set distinguishes great leaders from merely good ones, based on my interviews with C-suite executives in companies around the world.” This important observation was made by Dr Douglas Ready from the MIT Sloan School of Management in an article published in the March 2019 MIT Strategic Management Review. Ready went on to say:
As our work world becomes more virtual and our business models more digital, the key determinant of sustainable success is less about the power of a company’s algorithms than it is about the efficacy of the relationships we forge.
If you have direct reports, your relationships with them require their trust in you. Three fundamentals are often the foundation of workplace trust, is the conclusion of experts Jack Zenger & Joseph Folkman in a 2019 Harvard Business Review article, after analyzing 360-degree assessments of 87,000 leaders:
1. Positive relationships. Trust is in part based on the extent to which a leader is able to create positive relationships with other people and groups. To instill trust a leader must:
2. Good judgement/expertise. The extent to which a leader is well-informed and knowledgeable influences the amount of trust people have in that person. The leader must understand the technical aspects of the work as well as have significant experience. This means:
3. Consistency. The third element of trust is the extent to which leaders walk their talk and do what they say they will. People rate a leader high in trust if they:.
The research found that relationships are more important to trust than judgement or consistency. When it comes to trusting leaders, all three of these elements need to be above average, according to Zenger & Folkman.
Forming positive relationships is even more important during COVID-19 restrictions, according to leadership and communication specialist David Grossman. He made the following suggestions in an August 2020 blog to help leaders strengthen relationships and build positive results by:
Any of these connection points offer opportunities to get to know employees personally. In addition to asking about work-related topics, observe their at-home, or on-site workspace to understand more about what they enjoy and what is important to them. Ask about a photo or something interesting in their work area, talk about a favorite sports team, about their family, or what they enjoy doing outside of work. Talk about things you have in common that will help them get to know you, as well as you knowing more about them. What are the big and little things that matter to them? What are they excited about?
Overall, evidence repeatedly shows us that when you build strong career relationships you earn more trust and achieve better results with all your stakeholders. You can read more about this in my article, “Stakeholder relations management is a key skill.”
Even in this digital age, the most important deciding factor in your career journey is to remember that leaders who
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