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4 Ways Leaders can Build Relationships to Improve Participation for Better Outcomes Featured

4 Ways Leaders can Build Relationships to Improve Participation for Better Outcomes man and woman in orange shirt standing beside body of water during daytime

Leadership and collaboration are primarily a matter of principles and process, and not personality and content alone. When leaders master the process, they achieve consistent results, and people love working with them. Yet persistent low engagement scores reflect four central mistakes leaders make. Without attending to the ‘soft’ side of business, leaders are trying to win the Indy 500 without having a talented pit crew who know how to work with one another. 

How people feel at work matters. A sense of belonging contributes to greater cohesion in teams and organisations. What can leaders do to create this sense of belonging and agency?

Build your relationships. Too often leaders lose confidence with work relationships and either let people form their own relationships, or not, or outsource them to Human Resources. This is like outsourcing parenting or life partners, HR professionals are poor surrogates as leaders. That just doesn’t work. Leaders who connect with each staff member, become aware of their strengths and talents, and are easily available to give guidance and direction have productive staff.  They know how to tap into their staff’s brilliance, and who else they can collaborate with.

Equality of relationships. Leaders think it is the relationship between themselves and their executives that is paramount. They fail to recognize is that it is the quality of relationships among their leaders, and among leaders and staff that are crucial to releasing the brilliance that lies in their organisations. People know who to go to solve problems, who the sounding boards are, who can help, who to go to to make things happen, and are confident in the decisions they make.   When business relationships are based on high quality informal connections, shared life experiences and values, rather than people’s professional identities, the formal structure, or job function, people find it easy to gain a sense of belonging and give their best.

Make the people you are influencing the ‘client’ rather than your information and content. Leaders can create meeting environments where people want to give their best. Volumes of papers that are habitually delivered at short notice remains the modus operandi of many business and government organisations interactions. This has to stop.

Leaders who shift from preparing screeds of content to attending to participants in first four minutes of every meeting engender vitality and stellar contributions. They do this with six steps: they

  • begin meetings with an inclusive welcome,
  • are simply appreciative
  • make an anticipatory ‘I’ statement
  • acknowledge the experience and expertise in the room
  • focus ruthlessly on the outcome they want for their organisation and go backwards from there by crafting a question that mines their audiences’ experience and expertise, and
  • create a process for participation.

These six steps enable participants to ‘arrive’ and bring their best selves to the table. The leader can relax as participants do the work through their experience and expertise. Overall there is a mindset shift for leaders, that they cease being meeting leaders and become guardians of group development.

Don’t underestimate the power of new moments. When new people enter groups or new groups form, these are crucial moments to capitalize on. Leaders can learn how people get to know one another and rapidly work well together. Gone are the days where people take years to get to know one another from working together, or via dinners, or overnight team development sessions.

Every leader today needs to have the capacity to rapidly build relationships in their mindset and toolkit. Leaders already have the approaches they need; vision, expectations, and results. Instead of letting relationships with new appointees form haphazardly, successful leaders capitalise on their investment in appointing newcomers. They do this by personally introducing each appointee to their colleagues, their team, and the wider staff  including the reasons why they chose the person, the impact they want them to have, three or four qualities they know the person brings to their work, one or two experiences they bring, and how they want team members to work with them. By being systematic in personally inducting their appointee with each relevant group, rapid informal interpersonal relationship connections result ensuring the newcomer is integrated rapidly, and they know how they can give their best.

New groups form for specific results, whether it is a new board, an agile team, or a new or refreshed organisation. Too often groups dive into the work without knowing the gems that are at the table and how to best use them. We all know that names and roles just aren’t enough to bring vitality to interactions and create strong informal connections rapidly. More has to be done to release that brilliance that lies within groups.

Leaders can help new groups by Inviting board or team members to introduce themselves with one, some, or all of

  • One experience they have that draws them to the work of the board/team
  • 3 – 4 qualities they bring to difficult conversations the board might have
  • An influences on them now from within their family
  • Something they are really proud of in their work
  • 1 – 2 people/groups who have been influential in how they lead
  • What/who motivates them to get out of bed in the morning
  • The legacy they want to leave by being in the group

These simple self-disclosures give both breadth and depth to each person creating connections, similarities and differences with the others. Bonds form and acceptance deepens when people know one others’ backgrounds and motivations.

Leaders can learn how to develop relationships rapidly among themselves and among those they lead. Recognising that shaping group behavior is describable as a process, which they can learn gives them the levers they need to tap into the inevitable brilliance that lies within their organisations. Simple self-disclosure, those areas which have been private and personal, create powerful connections with others. People rapidly understand where one another are coming from and how they can work together. Without this, each person unconsciously falls into relationship patterns influenced by early family or work experiences.


DIANA JONES is a sociometrist; she studies and measures attitudes of social acceptance and rejection among members of a social grouping. This, in combination with her more than 30 years as an executive coach and leadership advisor, gives Jones a unique vantage point to understanding that it is the invisible personal qualities and little-known private experiences that create emotional connections and increase vitality in groups. She is author of LEADERSHIP LEVERS: Releasing the Power of Relationships for Exceptional Participation, Alignment, and Team Results (Productivity Press/Routledge, November 4, 2021)

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