Leadership Quality #15: Relationships – If you get Along, They’ll go Along

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

The ability to work with people and develop relationships is absolutely indispensable to effective leadership. In a survey on the top three traits employers desired in employees, number one on the list was good interpersonal skills (84%). Only 40% of the respondents listed education and experience in their top three. So if that’s a critical skill for employees, it’s even more critical for leaders. People truly do want to go along with people they get along with. And while someone can have people skills and not be a good leader, he cannot be a good leader without people skills. (It’s well known that people leave companies to follow leaders they respect and similarly leave when they cannot connect with new leaders). So what can you do to manage and cultivate good relationships as a leader?

Consider these three things:

  1. Have a leader’s head – understand people: The first quality of a relational leader is the ability to understand how people feel and think. As you work with others, recognise that all people, whether leaders or followers, have some things in common:
    • they like to feel special, so compliment them authentically
    • they want a better tomorrow, so show them hope
    • they desire direction, so navigate for them
    • they are inwardly focussed, so speak to their needs first
    • they get low emotionally, so encourage them
    • they want success, so help them win

    Recognising these truths, a leader must still be able to treat people as individuals. The ability to look at each person, understand them and connect with them is a major factor in relational success. That means treating people differently, not all the same as one another. This sensitivity can be called the soft factor in leadership. You have to be able to adapt your leadership style to the person you’re leading. 

    I’m particularly passionate about adapting your leadership style to the person you’re leading, in fact, my signature coaching programme is designed to empower you in just that. If you’d like more info please have a look at my Performance Through People programme.

  2. Have a leader’s heart – love people: “Being a leader is more than just wanting to lead. Leaders have empathy for others and a keen ability to find the best in people….not the worst…by truly caring for others” (Henry Gruland). You cannot be a truly effective leader, the kind that people want to follow, unless you love people.  Albert Einstein put it this way: “Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know; that man is here for the sake of other men.”

  3. Extend a leader’s hand – help people: “The fields of industry are strewn with the bones of those organisations whose leadership became infested with dry rot, who believed in taking instead of giving…who didn't realise that the only assets that could not be replaced easily were the human ones”  (Le Roy H. Kurtz of General Motors). People respect a leader who keeps their interests in mind. If your focus is on what you can put into people rather than what you can get out of them, they’ll love and respect you – and these create a great foundation for building relationships.


How are your people skills? Do you mix well with strangers? Do you interact well with all kinds of people? Can you find common ground readily? What about long-term interaction? Are you able to sustain relationships? If your relational skills are weak, your leadership will always suffer.

To improve your relationships, do the following:

  • Improve your mind – If your ability to understand people needs improvement, jump-start it by reading several books on the subject, including Dale Carnegie and Alan Loy McGinnis. Then spend more time observing people and talking to them to apply what you’ve learned.
  • Strengthen your heart – If you’re not as caring toward others as you could be, make a list of little things you could do to add value to friends and colleagues. Then look to do one every day. Don’t wait until you feel like helping others, act your way into feeling.
  • Repair a hurting relationship – Think of a valued long-term relationship that has faded. Do what you can to rebuild it. Get in touch with the person and try to reconnect. If you had a falling out, take responsibility for your part in it and apologise. Look to better understand, love and serve that person.

I invite you to have compassion for where-ever you currently find your relationships and know that this, like many other qualities, is about life-long learning.  It is powerful to take a look at how much time in your week is spent on relationships versus just your to-do list.

Part 15 of our Leadership Series: Leadership is an Inside Job, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader


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