Be Relational

I was working a trade show with a business colleague of mine and we were discussing his sales style that is heavily weighted on relationships. The reason for the conversation was that he had just met a new and very significant decision maker at the account he handles, a top 3 account for the company.  Within an hour, he learned that this man’s passion was bowling and arranged for our company to sponsor an upcoming bowling tournament. He quickly went from no relationship to a significant connection.

That encounter was soon followed by a conversation I had with an elder statesman in the Lions Club I recently joined. We were discussing how acknowledging a smile from a stranger or just saying a quick thank you to someone for doing a simple task, can lift a person’s spirits as well as our own.  He then shared an encounter he had with someone that had gone rather frostily and it didn’t sit well with him. So, he invested some time in trying to get to know that person, which led to all future interactions being considerably warmer. I told him that reminded of an Abe Lincoln quote I love, “I don’t like that man.  I must get to know him better.”

When I took over a new team at work several years ago, I had to deal with some short-term tension from the company’s leadership. They were looking for immediate outcomes while I was investing time and developing relationships. The results they wanted eventually came and, to me, these results are more sustainable and will be greater over time. I also experienced, as part of my volunteer roles with FCA and the high school/college football teams, that when it came to fundraising it is difficult to get contributions even though the donor believes in your cause, without a relationship.

Being relational makes it about others; being transactional makes it about you. Relationships thrive in a high-trust environment with shared values and goals; where there is loyalty and reciprocity. A low-trust environment, where values don’t matter but self-interest does, becomes focused on power and winning in the moment.

Every child learns who Paul Revere was and about his famous midnight ride. Yet, few people know who William Dawes was and that he made a similar ride that same evening.   William Dawes was a tanner and a Patriot who rode in tandem with Paul Revere, one taking a northern route and one taking a southern route.  Both were proclaiming the same news with the same fervor – doing the same transactional activity.  Yet Paul Revere created more awareness in his ride and is long remembered. Why?  Paul Revere was much more involved and engaged in the community. People knew who he was because he related to them on many levels. William Dawes was a nice man and a good tanner, but that was the extent of it.  He failed to connect with people; he lacked a relationship with them.

There can be a focus on being task driven these days as opposed to being relational. It is a busy world, with more and more expectations being asked us. It is an instant gratification mentality. Shorter attention spans with a quicker desire for results creates an activity-based approach. No doubt, being transactional has its place. If my colleague doesn’t eventually generate some business, knowing about bowling is useless; if my team never delivered the expected results, I would have been looking for a new job; if Paul Revere doesn’t raise the militia’s call to arms, we might all be speaking the King’s English.

I heard a story once about Robert Swanson, the founder of Genentech, Inc., a biotechnology corporation which has since become a subsidiary of Roche. He had a style that fit perfectly with the company’s free- wheeling scientists.  He chose to park at the far end of the parking lot, opposite his office, where he would then walk past all 1500 employees. He would stop to talk and ‘relate’ to a few employees each day. Analysts agreed that the company’s success was a result of its relational ‘family-style’ culture.

In the book, The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell talks about different archetypes of people. Two significant types are mavens and connectors. Mavens are all about the ideas and the information. They’re builders, engineers, process folks, and system folks. Mavens are transactional. Connectors make change happen through people. They galvanize people. Connectors are relational.

Relational people have a mutual interest as opposed to a self-interest; they are more concerned with resolving conflict than winning the battle; they understand the person in the process instead of just the process; and they evaluate the overall relationship instead of only judging the results. Relational interactions are about building healthy connections. Getting to know the customers as well as your employees; their needs and their wants. It is not about short-term solutions or a single sale. Relational coaching is coaching the whole person and not just the athlete; caring about the individual off-the-field more than the results on the field.

Relational leadership is developing a relationship with someone to the extent they want to do whatever it is the leader is asking them. Businesses and organizations that employ relational leadership cite fewer problems, higher revenue, and much less turnover. Relational leadership isn’t a new concept. No one made the disciples follow Jesus and they received no compensation. He developed such a relationship with the disciples that they followed Him anywhere and most gave their life in His name. Many a book has been written about the servant leadership Jesus modeled. His greatest example is found in John 13:14-15, where Jesus washes His disciples’ feet, “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” An act of love, humility, and service. He encourages us to follow His lead and be relational.

My strength as a coach, parent, business leader and even Christian is based on being relational. In fact, I believe my being stronger relationally makes me better in doing the tasks at hand. Like my previous blog on “Being versus Doing” both elements are important it is just what drives the behavior. The more I love someone, the more I will ask of myself. The stronger my faith has become, the more I want to witness that faith through acts and deeds. The focus needs to be on relationships.



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