July 13th, 2014

Relationship Building And The Effective Leader

2nd In A Series: Lessons On Executive Leadership Styles and Behaviors.

guidoIn its recently (June 2014) published State of Nonprofits Report, the School of Leadership at the University of San Diego asserts that leadership is traditionally thought of as being expressed through the activities of an individual — the leader. However, contemporary leadership theory, says the university, reveals that highly successful organizations are characterized by a focus on executive leadership teams (ELT), with skill sets heavily vested in the art of relationship building.

It almost goes without saying that an effective leader must be adept at building relationships. But according to James Hunter, author of The Servant, many people advancing into leadership positions are hired or promoted because of their technical or task-related abilities.

No doubt, competence and subject matter expertise are absolute prerequisites to attaining an executive level position. But remaining there and excelling in the role will take much more than just the technical competency, relevant college degree, and related job experience required for the position.

For an introduction to this multi-post series on executive leadership styles and behaviors, click here.

According to Hunter, truly great leaders are skilled at relationship building. “The key then to leadership is accomplishing the tasks at hand while building relationships,” says Hunter.

Ultimately, the ability to establish and maintain professional relationships, both internally and externally to the organization, is crucial to the success of the ELT member and often a key measure of that executive’s value to the organization.

Of course, ELTs, like any group, are comprised of unique individuals who bring a diversity of skills and attributes to the team, along with varying personality types and dispositions (introverts / extroverts, shy / gregarious, etc.). Regardless of personality type or disposition, all members of the ELT should be fully engaged in relationship building endeavors designed to benefit the organization overall, not to mention the obvious benefit to the ELT member’s ongoing employment prospects.

“Ultimately, the ability to establish and maintain professional relationships, both internally and externally to the organization, is crucial to the success of the ELT member and often a key measure of that executive’s value to the organization.”

According to Chris Gaborit, managing director of The Learning Factor, “being truly (fully) engaged” is key to becoming indispensable at work.

“When decision time comes, and one of two people needs to be retrenched, the one who exhibits (full engagement) will remain, ” says Gaborit. “In our business, we find time and time again that it’s the truly engaged employees who rise to the occasion – and they’re the ones you want to hold on to.”

Relationship Building – Growing Your Network Outside Your Organization 

There is never a shortage of opportunities to engage for people who proactively add value to their organizations.

“One of the greatest ways of doing this is to develop your network outside your company,” Gaborit says. “I learned this lesson later than I should have, but when I saw the power of networks, I worked hard to build and communicate with my network and build strong relationships that have brought benefit to businesses for which I have worked.”

As an ELT member (or junior associate aspiring to a leadership position in the organization), are you actively engaged in your industry sector and community? Or are your professional activities primarily confined to the office suite and your immediate job area of focus, with the exception of mandatory appearances at mostly internal events like shareholder annual meetings, investor presentations, product launches, staff retreats and board of directors meetings?

How might you add value to your company by becoming more broadly, externally engaged? Doing so will help to raise awareness of your organization, its mission and contributions to the greater community. The opportunities are plentiful. We will explore some of them in future posts in this series on executive leadership styles and behaviors.

From Organization Systems International*

Polaris Competency Model

Relationship Building


When it comes to Relationship Building, effective executive leadership team (ELT) members understand that leadership is about establishing and maintaining productive relationships. They like interacting with people and are good at it. They devote appropriate time and energy to establishing and maintaining networks. They initiate contacts readily and maintain them over time. They are able to utilize relationships to facilitate business transactions.

Effective Performers…

  • Recognize the importance of relationships.
  • Devote time and energy to cultivating professional relationships, both inside and outside the organization.
  • Genuinely enjoy being around people.
  • Maintain broad internal and external networks of business relationship.

Tips for the current/aspiring ELT member

  • Balance networking with hard working.
  • Make the effort to put a face to each voice.
  • To build strong relationships you must trust enough to self-disclose.
  • Be sincere!

In evaluating performance, to what extent does the ELT member…

  • Actively maintain a network of external professional relationships (other than social media networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?
  • Maintain on-going, informal dialogue with others to build trust and understanding?

*Organization Systems International (OSI) is a San Diego based, global consultancy providing “talent solutions” in Leadership and Management to an international clientele. The company’s services include competency modeling, executive coaching, and competency based interviewing, just to name a few.

OSI’s Polaris Competency Model has been incorporated into this series on executive leadership styles and behaviors to illustrate core competencies ideally found among the members of highly functional leadership teams. The model, based on the disciplines of organizational psychology and organizational development, provides a mix of science and art for evaluating executive level talent. It is often used in the hiring and promotion process, as well as in executive succession planning. To learn more about OSI, click here

Look for the next installment in this series on executive leadership styles and behaviors: Positive Impact And The Effective Leader, coming July 27.

Sources for this post: 

booklook2University of San Diego, School of Leadership and Education Sciences: 2014 State of Nonprofits Annual Report, June 2014.

Hunter, James C., The Servant – A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership: Prima Publishing, 1998.

Gaborit, Chris, 5 More Keys to Becoming Indispensible at Work, LinkedIn, June 30, 2014.

Previous post in this series: Leadership Team Key To Optimizing Organizational Performance.

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