"If you want to get along, go along!" That was legendary Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn's advice to a young Lyndon Johnson when LBJ was an upwardly aspiring congressman from Rayburn's home state of Texas. If Rayburn, for whom the Rayburn Building, which houses Congressional offices, were alive today, he could make a good living on the business lecture circuit.
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"Building relationships is one of the strongest skills sets related to leadership effectiveness," says Jean Leslie, a researcher at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). "Managers with experience building relationships are seen as more effective." That statement emerges from a comprehensive research study undertaken by CCL involving more than 438,000 respondents. Two thirds of respondents said that "building and maintaining relationships is a critical competency."
Coupled with relationship building is collaboration. In another CCL study, nearly every one of 250 executives surveyed said that "collaboration is critical to success." Given the complexity of today's business challenges, compounded by 24/7 schedules and global competitiveness, working with another person to create, develop and sustain projects, processes, or products requires true melding of talents and skills.
The trouble is that today's senior leaders are not adept at either relationship building or collaboration, according to CCL. Relationship building ranked tenth out of sixteen leadership competencies; meanwhile, only 47 percent of managers believed that "leaders in their organization were highly skilled in collaboration."
These results are not surprising given the state of management. Our companies crave strong leaders; we tend to value the man who stands up and takes charge. But that model is in flux. One reason for this is the rising influence of women in the workplace; women tend to be more collaborative than men. Another is that it is collaboration that enables innovation, which plays a key role in a company's ability to stay competitive. And strong relationships are the underpinning of any collaborative effort. So how can you nurture both these skills?
Learn to read people. The pace of management today is so hurried that lunches sometimes become a luxury. That's too bad. Getting to know someone can occur more swiftly and genuinely over a shared meal, even in the corporate cafeteria. When you sit across from someone you can listen as you munch; you can observe the person and make mental notes about what he says, or likely does not say. In time, you can determine motivation and aspiration as well as commitment. Call this reading people.
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