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Why good relationships (but not close friendships) matter for your leadership

Published on 6/26/17Bookmark and Share

In a recent research study, staffing and recruiting firm, Randstad, found that the number one reason employees leave their job is their immediate supervisor. This idea is also transmitted by a well-known saying: “People don’t leave bad organizations, they leave bad bosses.” While a decision to quit often has a number of reasons, a significant body of research over the years has validated this basic idea. Beyond being the cause of people quitting, having a poor relationship with your boss/supervisor will cause you to be less engaged in your work and then, not surprisingly, less productive on a whole host of metrics.

On the other hand, those who have an effective and positive working relationship with their boss/supervisor rally when the chips are down:

– they take collaborative rather than competitive approaches to workplace conflict,
– they perform at a higher level
– and are more likely to share valuable information with their supervisor.

“You do not have to be close friends!”

Another way to think about it is this: a lot of the action in “leadership” happens in a small, simple space – the existence and product of a dyadic relationship between two people. So what can leaders do to take advantage of this basic idea?

Research (including research by Center-affiliated professor Dr. Hock-Peng Sin) in this area leads us to THREE recommendations that I highlight below – not all of which are intuitively obvious.

  1. Fight your urge toward favoritism. We tend to unconsciously (and consciously) play favorites. And sometimes there is good reason for us preferring to use our scarce time and energy resources with the best employees. But beware! Oftentimes subtle biases about who our “favorites” are creep in, and without knowing it, we are not giving everyone a fair chance. Develop effective working relationships with as many employees in your group as possible. Ask yourself if you need to give some of your employees another shot at an effective working relationship.
  2. You do not have to be close friends. An effective relationship does NOT mean that you have to be close friends – this is really about trust at work, backing each other up, providing developmental opportunities, and being professional and courteous. Years ago, I coached an executive who looked exhausted at the thought of developing close and personal relationships with so many people, until I explained to her that it’s not about being friends or trying to force a close personal relationship. Sure, a good personal relationship can be okay if it happens, but the benefits accrue simply with trust, professionalism, courtesy, and a shared commitment toward the working relationship. Ah – now doesn’t that make it less burdensome?
  3. Exhibit empathy, effort, and ethics. All three of these can increase the chances for an effective working relationship. And there is even some evidence to suggest that being clearer about the strategic vision and direction of your unit can increase the quality of your working relationships.

Have you maximized your working relationships? It turns out that if you do, it might just bring about good things for you, individuals in your team, and for your team and organization as a whole.