Relationship Building - The Number Two Project Manager Success Factor
February's newsletter identified my top ten project manager success factors. The number two success factor on that list was “Be a relationship builder.”
I am a very introverted engineer... when alone with my laptop happiness abounds! When around people I haven’t met, it can make me nervous to the point of nausea. For years this natural introverted nature caused me to avoid people and public situations to the point it stunted my professional growth. More importantly it hindered my ability to lead and obtain leadership roles and make positive change.
A leader in my organization gave me the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. The leader that gave me the book could clearly see that I needed help. It took me three years to read the book because I never picked it up. To my introverted engineer mind the title was illogical and offensive. Why would I want a friend I have to win… it just didn’t make sense…if I had to win you I don’t want you. It wasn’t until my lack of leadership effectiveness reached a point of frustration that I read the book.
Today I am a strong believer in relationship building. Make no mistake, competence in any field counts.
But the bottom line to effectiveness on a larger scale is not what you can do through your individual competence but what you can do through others... especially when you do not have direct authority.
Getting things done through others is most effective when 1. You are trusted and 2. You have a strong relationship. Today this seems like a simple, obvious truth to me. But I used to believe that all that mattered were the facts, lines of authority and/or the chain of command.
I have found all of the attention surrounding “Emotional Intelligence” very interesting. There is nothing new in emotional intelligence that effective leaders haven’t known or practiced since the wheel was invented. But, if that is the buzz word-paradigm it takes to make some embrace the “dark side” then so be it.
Some of the best leadership advice I ever received was to read sales books. I am continually taken aback by the number of people, especially technical people, that view sales skills as trivial and/or even unethical. The best performing sales people (and project managers by the way) take great pains to find out about their customers’ requirements and about them as individuals. They try to identify areas of common interest or shared traits with their customer/stakeholders. These areas may not be related to the product, service or situation but these areas form a springboard for establishing trust. This dramatically increases in importance the larger the project or program you are leading!
Consider the quote from the book “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” by Gracian written in 1649.
“GAIN GOODWILL. For thus the first and highest cause forsees and furthers the greatest objects. By gaining their goodwill you gain people’s good opinion. Some trust so much to merit they neglect grace, but wise men know it is a long and stony road without lift from a favor. Goodwill facilitates and supplies everything. It supposes gifts or even supplies them, such as courage, zeal, knowledge, or even discretion; whereas it will not see defects because it will not search for them. It arises from some common interest, either material, as in disposition, nationality, family, race, occupation; or formal, which is a higher kind of communion, as in capacity, obligation, reputation or merit. The whole difficulty is to gain goodwill – to keep it is easy. It has, however, to be sought for and when found to be utilized.”
Note the words “it arises from some common interest…” Common interest is a basis for building trust. Gracian published this in 1649. We like people that share common bonds with us. We like people that like us and that are like us. We trust people we like.
The good news is that as human beings we have some common bonds with every other human being! As a leader you seek these out to use them as a basis to strengthen your relationships.
As a leader you create these common bonds among your team and stakeholders to strengthen their relationships.
With all the technical challenges, process challenges and meetings that are required for a project manager it can be easy to put relationship building on the back burner. Relationship building is work! My favorite quote from Thomas Edison is “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” If you ignore the work of relationship building you are incurring a significant opportunity cost.
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