February just seems to be a good month to talk about relationships. I’m sure it has something to do with Valentine’s Day, with it’s accompanying emphasis on flowers, chocolate, and Hallmark cards, and a focus that seems to primarily be on romantic relationships. The reality is, however, that relationships are a vital part of everything we do, whether that involves family, friends, or work. We operate in relationship with others, and more and more it seems that research and study are recognizing this.
Much of the “brain-based education” research in recent years has resulted in the realization of the importance of the teacher-student relationship in the shaping of children, and even, literally, in the shaping of their brains. The concept of social intelligence has pointed out the cellular biological connection and influence that happens in an interaction between people, underscoring the importance of being able to connect well with people. Leadership studies have developed theories that account for both task management and people management, and the most recent theories of leadership – related to authentic leadership – heavily emphasize the need to develop and maintain genuine relationships with people.
You probably realize that this simply makes sense. People matter, and relationships are important. Therefore, we need to intentionally foster relationships with people, and in a great variety of ways. We need to build relationships with people from whom we can learn, mentors who will help us to grow. We need to build relationships with people that have potential to grow, so that we can mentor and develop others. We need to build relationships with our coworkers and peers, our supervisors, and our subordinates, so that we can better function together within the organization. We need to be investing in the relationships we have with our family members – our spouses, our children, our parents (because, after all, your family is more important than your job). Everywhere that we connect with people, we need to be intentionally building relationships.
What is most important in all of these relationships, though, is that they be genuine. They cannot be based on ulterior, selfish motives that seek to take advantage of others for personal gain. If that’s the case, then it is no longer relationship-building, but manipulation, and manipulation will only cause damage and frustration and hurt to both you and them. We need to build relationships, but we need to be genuine about it, connecting with people and caring about people because they matter, and connecting in ways that are beneficial for them as much as for us.
Recently, my boss – the chairman of the board of directors – spoke with me about the need for me to take more opportunities to personally connect with our constituents. I had been guilty of hiding behind my introverted tendencies, and was letting others stand up front at events in the visible role. I was reminded and encouraged by him to put myself in front of people and make myself more accessible, because they needed to be able to feel connected with me, for the benefit and health of the organization. And he was right.
I immediately began putting myself on the agenda at the beginning of public events, even if only to stand in front and take a couple of minutes to welcome everyone. I also started standing at the main exit door after events to simply smile, greet, and thank people. In addition, I took a page from Verne Harnish’s “Scaling Up” and started building into my schedule regular interaction with customers, in the form of a planned personal interaction with two or three individual families a week. All of these things were specific steps to help me meet, connect with, and build relationships with people. I knew it was important to do, but I had allowed myself to let it slip as a priority, and so I needed the reminder to continue focusing on relationships.
Now, I’m reminding you. You also need to be connecting with people and building relationships. You probably have your own story that illustrates the importance of this (and feel free to share your story), but perhaps you too have let it slide. Get back out there, meet with people, invest in people, and put a priority on relationships. Relationship building and maintaining (in a genuine way) are integral and essential to your life – at home, at work, and in your community and social life – therefore you need to be intentional about doing it. Build relationships. It matters.