Collaborative Relationships


Collaborative Relationships
One of the Secrets of Successful Leadership

By Nancy Fredericks and Candy Deemer

Right this minute, in top companies throughout the country, 18 out of every 20 top executive positions are held by men! So if you are a woman, and you want to join the top ranks of your organization, what do you have to do? Well, playing the game like a man hasn’t worked, so why not start “playing with them?”

Building collaborative relationships is often one of the traits that distinguish leaders from the rest of the crowd. And the good news is that women have a natural predilection for this success-achieving ability.

Why is this skill so vital? Because leaders don’t lead in a vacuum, they achieve through others. So relationship-building is at the root of every business transaction. You may ask, “If women are so good at relationships, and it is a distinguishing characteristic of leaders, then why aren’t more of us at the top?”

The answer is complex. In part, it is how we define relationships—including the business ones. For women, relationships have an emotional component. The feeling of “I like,” “I connect,” “I respect” is the catalyst for initiating—and maintaining—relationships. For men, particularly in business, relationships evolve first from rational and expedient requirements. They initiate relationships based on what needs to get done, and what skills are required. Emotional connection is not a precondition, as it is for women.

As a woman interested in moving up the corporate ladder, collaborating with others is a requisite. So how do we bring our relationship view into alignment with business and still remain in integrity with who we are? Four mindsets will enhance your collaborative business relationships and assist you in thrusting your career into high gear.

Know Yourself. Whether you realize it or not, your values influence your decisions. These “operating principles” are the part of you that defines who you are and often determine your “yes’s” and “no’s.” They are a combination of personal values—like honesty, fairness, adventure, family, intellectual growth, etc.—as well as organizational values—like strong client relationships, employee development, high profit margins, business development, etc. Once you gain clarity on your values, you know who you are and what you stand for. This simplifies your decision-making process.

Know Your Partners. Business results are created through others—often with individuals who have differing values and strengths, and this very difference can cause conflict. The secret to becoming a power producer in your organization is to become a more powerful people connector. This is easy for women when we like our partners, and a lot more difficult when we don’t. Improved relationships occur when you change your mindsets in two ways:

  • Focus your attention on “what’s there,” “what we have in common,” rather than on “what’s missing” and “what’s different.”
  • Look for the specific skills or talents that represent the other person’s “added value.”

You’ll find you and your partners achieve more results faster, and better.

Know How to Communicate. Powerful communicators bring clarity to the discussion because they understand and respect their partner’s intellectual preferences as well as they know their own. Ask, “Does my partner need detail or top view information to reach decisions?” or “Does my partner need silence or to talk out loud when processing information?”

They also appreciate that emotions are at the heart of all communication. What emotional components do you need (and what does your partner need) to feel fully engaged in the relationship? Is it “respect,” “acknowledgement,” “fun,” or something else?

This gap between your intellectual and emotional communication style and your partner’s is where breakdown occurs. The better you identify and then manage this gap, the stronger the relationship.

Ask the Ultimate Question. When conflicts arise—and they always do, in even the best of collaborative relationships—asking the ultimate question, “What is the company’s highest good?” will bring you back into collaboration. It is a key for evaluating the wisdom of any decision. This is the common ground where everyone can meet—putting aside individual egos and subjective points of view. With this question, you and your partner are focused on the same priority—the company. This is not just for the “greater good of the organization,” but for everyone in it.

Transforming your career from a middle manager to the most senior executive ranks of your organization becomes a natural outcome when you apply these four mindsets to your Collaborative Relationships. So instead of looking up in your organization longingly …isn’t it time to start doing something about it? Because knowledge alone won’t make the difference in your career; ultimately, it is your actions that will make the difference. So start using your talent as a collaborator to form strong business relationships. It is after all one of the secrets to becoming a leader.