The Business of Leadership is Relationships – Tony Frost

Leadership is all about getting others to do what you want them to do and love it and preferably to think that it was their idea in the first place.

There have been millions of words written and spoken about leadership; and almost as many about what the business of business really is. Managing and leading organisational behaviour is all about creating collective action. Achieving this cannot happen without positive relationships. These relationships do not simply happen by chance. The best organisations spend great time and effort on creating corporate cultures that nurture positive relationships. Google for example ensure that people stand in a queue for their lunch and only provide long tables in the canteen to make sure that people rub shoulders and share lunch with those that they may never have even seen before. All of this in order to ensure that relationships are being built throughout the business.

Great effort is invested in building relationships to create mergers and acquisitions that work.

It was Winston Churchill, I believe, who said that you should keep friends close but you need to keep your enemies even closer. He also said that war always ends with talk and relationship-building. Why it that we don’t do this before the war is starts to prevent it from happening in the first place? I have paraphrased here, I know. But the lessons are clear.

The average organisation has multiple relationships but, obviously, some are more important to the business than others. These relationships do not depend on the business but rather on the people in it. The propensity to create and engage in building relationships will be nurtured or discouraged by the culture and leadership on the business.

If there is a deep understanding of the importance of relationships and the dependence of these on the culture and leadership then relationships will flourish. This will apply whether the relationships are with critical customers, employees or the trade unions.

The other critical aspect is to make sure that the people are properly equipped to understand the social dynamics and benefits of relationship-building.

These may seem to some to be small unimportant things; or worse that this warm and fuzzy stuff makes no contribution to the bottom line. This at best is confused thinking; and at worst cynicism of the most dangerous kind.

In our own country one need only look at Marikana (and other tragedies) to see the disastrous effects of ignoring, intentionally or unintentionally, the hard work of building positive relationships. And make no mistake, it is hard work. Good relationships do not just magically fall from the sky although we dream or even imagine that this could happen. It takes focussed, conscious and intentional work to make it happen.

All the world’s best organisations (and one would hope that this includes governments) claim loudly that people are their most important asset. It would be great to be able to believe this but unfortunately the reality paints a somewhat different picture. If this were so there would be much greater attention paid to the importance of people in getting things done and objectives achieved, instead of treating the employees as commodities to be bought and sold at will. There would be a much greater focus on treating them like the assets they truly are. Without people the organisation simply fails to exist. Without people the organisation is an organisation in name only. It requires at least one employee to open the door each morning; it requires an employee to switch on the computer; to operate the factory machine; to answer the telephone; to lead and manage the company and so on.

If employees were truly assets they would appear on the other side of the balance sheet and not be treated as costs but rather as investments. The appropriate amount would be spent on maintenance and development of these investments and a great deal of effort would be put into communicating effectively with them to ensure the very best return on investment.

This same attitude and approach should be shown to the other critical group of people – the clients. Without these two on board at the 100% level the business/organisation will always perform at the sub-optimal level.

Relationships are built on a give-and-take from both parties and not as one wag put it when describing his relationship with his erstwhile wife, “I give and she takes!”

The best relationships are about envisaging and building the future together using the skills, wisdom and expertise of both parties to make the picture bigger and brighter for all. This is where the work is. It takes courage and risk-taking. It needs both parties to be prepared to share and expose their vulnerabilities to and to figure out together how they can make the future the very best that it can be for everyone.

This is the true essence of making the future together!

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