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You Can't Microwave Your Leadership Relationships
by Dr. Karen Otazo

Excerpted  from "The Truth About Being A Leader... and Nothing But The Truth"

The gadgets in our lives have made us accustomed to instant results. Thanks to your microwave oven, you can have a hot meal any time, day or night, in a matter of seconds. But some things still cannot be rushed. If you want a soufflé, there’s no way around it: you'll have to take it slow.

Leadership relationships are like that. When moving into a new leadership role, you have to let meaningful connections develop gradually. Wise leaders don’t just jump in and start telling people what to do. They devote the first ninety days of their tenure to establishing new -- and refreshing old -- relationships with all key players. This builds confidence and trust, so that those relationships are primed and ready, and don’t fall flat, just when you need them. It also means that you don’t tread on anyone’s toes.

Take Geoffrey, who became head of a Midwestern oil services company following a two-year stint as president of Indonesian operations. Geoffrey had been with the company for 18 years, but he knew that after having been away it was vital to rebuild old relationships and create new ones.

During his first months, Geoffrey got to know his team. He asked for their thoughts about what was working and what wasn't. He listened, and acted when he could make a difference. He made small changes like removing obstructionist bosses and creating office space, and consulted with his growing network about larger changes for the future. He also established connections with people outside his organization, making overtures to political figures in Washington, and volunteering to chair an American Petroleum Institute committee. Knowing that the VP was concerned about Mexico's oil industry, Geoffrey also went to Mexico City and brought back up-to-date information from his contacts there.

In all of this, Geoffrey didn't forget to make midnight phone calls to his colleagues in Indonesia to update them. By the end of those ninety days, he had laid a solid groundwork of new and continuing relationships that boded well for the future. His success offers lessons for anyone moving into a leadership role: 

1.     Identify connections that will be vital to you in your new role.

Internally: Try drawing a map of all current and potential relationships within your organization. Put yourself at the center with the others in a circle around you. They may include: your boss and boss's colleagues, your colleagues, groups that support you (Communications, Human Resources, etc.), and your direct reports.

Externally: Do the same for your external relationships. Depending on your job, you may want to create or reinforce relationships with: your professional society, politicians, consultants, vendors, and academics or experts.

Background research -- talking to people you know or looking on the Internet -- is useful in establishing who’s who. Knowing something about someone before you meet him or her also shows that you care about the relationship and gives you a point of contact.

2.     Consult with people and share your plans. Once you’ve identified and researched those vital connections, approach people for information and input. Many will have valuable insights that will help craft your leadership vision and agenda. As you establish the key elements of your strategy, continue to check in with those people, internal and external, who are most involved in or implicated by them, running your plans by them at the end of the ninety days. This lets people know that you've been listening, and shows them how you plan to move forward with their input.

3.     Keep it up: After your initial information-gathering period, it may be tempting to let some relationships slide, but maintaining them is a wise investment, as you never know when you may need them. Consider having your assistant monitor a list of your key contacts, so you can schedule regular, brief conversations with them.

Taking the time to build and renew relationships early on in your tenure is essential. It is through your relationships that you get things done. Be sure to make them a top priority.

 
 

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