Leadership Begins with a Background of Relatedness

Insights From Kevin | January 14, 2019 

Each of us who occupies a leadership role wants to be an effective leader. We want to take actions that are meaningful, inspire others to action, and to fulfill on a vision for the future. That’s our job. However, direct action often doesn’t happen without having a few things in place first. To move a team, a company, or even a person for that matter, the leader has to establish a relationship with that person or group in which their constituents have a stake in the matter. More than ever, and especially today, “giving orders” does not work, except in rare circumstances which we’ll address later. We have found that what is most effective in developing this background of relatedness is having a relationship with a person or group that develops and fosters affinity, respect, admiration, and being connected. It is a leader’s job to establish this background of relatedness. 

What is a background of relatedness? It’s the first step in moving something to action in a process we call “enrollment”. It begins with establishing a relationship in which two parties discover mutually shared goals or commitments. This can be anything from ‘we both have kids attending the same school, so we want to support the school’, to ‘we both are working on a research and development project in a biotech company to create a cure for a disease’. 

Here is a simple example ~ Imagine that you arrive at an airport. You go outside to get a taxi. And as you’re standing there waiting, you’re next to someone also waiting and you begin to “chit chat” about this, that, and the other thing. And in the moment, you both discover that there are no taxis. One of you asks the other, “Where are you going?” “Midtown”. “Oh, I’m going to midtown too, would you like to share a cab?” “That would be great!”, and off you go together.

What allowed for the collaborative conversation was what had happened right before. It began as “casual banter”, the friendly exchange that took place that set the stage for discovering they were both going to the same place and both parties had the same goal and predicament. They discovered how they could solve the problem by solving it together. This simple example illustrates how a background of relatedness works. 

One of the challenges a leader has is getting people on board or getting them to buy into a vision and to execute the strategy. This is a common and typical challenge for most leaders ~ how to articulate it. What do you say? How do you say it? And what medium do you use to be effective in getting people on board? I have asked over 10,000 professionals what they consider the worst method for communication and their unanimous response, “It’s email!” Yet I still see many leaders trying to get their people to implement difficult and complex strategies by sending out emails, essentially giving instructions. THIS NEVER WORKS ~ EVER.

Why? Because people fundamentally don’t like being told what to do and therefore, they resist it. One exception is in the military where the rules of the game are very different, as is the background of relatedness. Yet you would be surprised at how often people try to get away with it. Getting people on board requires a bit of a courtship, cultivating the conversation so that they see the sense of it and the value of what it is you’re going to ask them to do. It starts with a background of relatedness. 

When a leader is initiating a new project the first step is gathering a key group of people to take them through a set of steps toward fulfillment. For this to be successful, that conversation must be grounded in a strong background of relatedness. Before asking for anything, a thoughtful leader starts by recognizing and appreciating several things about their team. This creates a certain relatedness. The leader might begin by thanking people for coming to the meeting, recognizing recent hard work and success, as well as validating and highlighting recent wins. 

It could go like this ~ “Good morning everybody. Thank you for being here. I know we’re really busy trying to get third quarter results in and I want to appreciate how hard everybody has been working. Be clear, that’s paying off with some exceptional results, particularly this quarter. I can’t thank you enough.”

Once the stage is set by establishing a background of relatedness, and not until then, one can introduce what’s next – including asking people to get on board for the next phase of work or strategic initiative. At that point they can initiate a sense of urgency, but not until they have established that in “the listening” of their people. In our work we refer to that as the background of relatedness and it is the key ingredient in a set of conversations that lead to breakthrough results.

Kevin Cullen is President of Leadera Consulting Group, specializing in producing breakthrough business results. If you want more on this conversation or the firm, contact us at Leadera Consulting Group.

Kevin Cullen: kcullen@leaderacg.com, cc: acook@leaderacg.com