Leadership 101: Investment in relationships

27 July 2022

    Vocal Coaching

    The key to great leadership is a relentless investment in your people – in relationships.

    Between you and your direct reports. Between everyone.

    There’s no short-cut. It takes time. It requires a huge commitment every day and the work is never finished. Great relationships need to be nurtured and maintained. They can also be destroyed very quickly.

    And no 2 relationships are the same. It takes high levels of personal care and high levels of EQ to understand the different needs of everyone in your team.

    But there’s no use railing against this. “I’m too busy. When will I find the time?” It’s your job – and it’s right at the crux of it. Embrace it.

    And as a leader, you have to work twice as hard to build trust. There’s already a high level of suspicion towards you courtesy of your position. Kim Scott, former CEO coach at Dropbox says “to some degree, the minute you assume the role of boss you’ll be fighting preconceptions.”

    But the return on this investment is huge. Get it right – create a culture where people listen and speak to each other openly, honestly and freely every day – and you’ll save yourself an awful lot of time in the long run.

    Teams that listen and speak to each other perform far better.

    There are fewer blind spots, more transparency. There’s more feedback and feed-forward. People push, challenge and support each other, knowing that it’s coming FROM a place of great care and all FOR the common good.

    Investment in relationships leads to teams that are agile, innovative, fail fast, learn, adapt quickly and move on. These are great environments to work in. So how do we take the lead?


    Creating this culture: the mechanics

    Have this framework visible wherever you can.If you haven’t had the chance, take a look at our post on “Feedback: Without it we can’t grow.” In it, we touch on Kim Scott’s theory of “Radical Candor” outlined above and we re-frame the perception of feedback. It’s very positive!
    The culture that you must take the lead in creating is one where people care deeply for each other and challenge directly. This is “Radical Candor.” As I mentioned above, this is an exciting, fast paced environment to be part of.

    But it doesn’t come overnight.


    Care Personally – you can’t fake it

    To move up the care personally axis, you have to really want to. You can’t fake it. People will see through that. Like any genuine relationship in life, trust takes time to build. You have to be truly invested otherwise it doesn’t work.

    As the boss, it’s doubly important because people traditionally want to hate on the person in charge and talk about you behind your back. And they will if they don’t feel like you care about them.

    Factor in relationship building as part of your job. Allocate time to it. Give yourself space to listen and speak to people. If it means actually blocking it into the diary, so be it. Address it all of the time. And no, the odd one-to-one or social event outside of work won’t cut it. The key is not to cram your diary so full with stuff that you don’t have time for your people. Remember, people and relationships ARE your job; they don’t get in the way of you doing your job.


    Earn the right to be direct

    Truly valuing the relationships that you build at work and caring for your people gives you the right to challenge directly. And actually, when there’s so much trust built up between you and them, you don’t have to labour over it.

    A piece of feedback can be given clearly, concisely and immediately in a matter of moments. It will also be received in good spirit because that person can trust that it’s coming from a good place. Put simply, they can trust that you actually care about them.


    The obnoxious boss

    A common mistake is to think that all of this people caring and relationship building is a molly coddling waste of time. “Well I’m the boss, and sometimes I just need to give a simple, direct instruction without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings.”

    You can do this, but without having taken time to build the relationship and show that you care, it just comes across as obnoxious aggression.

    And it’s actually quite lazy. You haven’t put in the work. You haven’t earned it. Maybe the person will take the feedback or instruction and follow up on it because you’re the boss and they have to. But isn’t if far more powerful if they actually want to understand and take on the feedback because they want to be better and buy into the same common objectives?

    Now that’s a rather more inspiring environment to be part of.


    The detached, “put it off” boss

    On the other end of the spectrum, if you haven’t taken the time to invest in your relationships and know your team, you might waste far too long deliberating over how to give some difficult feedback to a direct report.

    You actually do care about hurting the person’s feelings. And because you haven’t built enough trust with them, having a quick word doesn’t feel like an option.

    If you never listen or speak to your team, it doesn’t feel natural or organic. Conversations are put off because they’re deemed difficult. Maybe you wait for that one-to-one and rehearse what you’re going to say. Perhaps when the one-to-one comes along, it no longer seems important, so you leave it. This is classic ruinous empathy. But a culture like this is stodgy. It can feel like you’re moving through treacle and it slows progress down.


    So what can you do?

    The best way to kick-start this culture – at The Speakers’ Gym we call it “Speak, Listen: Act” – is to live it yourself. Start with you.

    Here are a few quick wins to affect right away:

    1. Embrace relationship-building as part of your job
    2. Have the Radical Candor framework visible wherever possible at work
    3. Factor in time in your diary every day to listen and speak to your people
    4. Start with you and Invite criticism from your team by establishing a regular process where it can happen
    5. Once you’ve truly clarified and understood the criticism, act on it.

    Taking time to invest in relationships, show up and show that you care every single day is not a diversion from the work.

    There’s no getting away from it, it’s a huge time rich commitment, but eventually it will result in the creation of a culture that allows you to act far quicker. Now that’s exciting.

    Speak, listen: Act. Simple!

    From our clients



    The Speakers’ Gym is like the iPhone. You don’t realise you need it until you have it, and then you can’t live without it.

    Magda Gonzalez, Group CFO, Monex Europe



    It was completely practical and the open-forum feedback was so valuable. You created a safe environment for everyone to learn. Thank you!

    Nicola Koronka, Co-Founder and Managing Partner, Missive



    I was recommended by a friend who works in the same sector to contact The Speakers’ Gym to help me with my presentation delivery skills and I have not been disappointed with the results. Chris and Jonny work with you to provide bespoke training for your goals and needs. They are highly professional and make you feel at ease from the first minute the first session begins. I would highly recommend them to those who have a role which involves public speaking!

    Julia Peake,Technical Development Manager, Sanlam



    It has challenged both my thinking and approach and I will be sure to keep The Speakers’ Gym ‘fireworks’ readily available on my desk to refer to when not only presenting but also when needed through everyday management.

    Liz Paradine – Chief Operations Manager - 7iM


    Transact first engaged with The Speaker Gym late in 2018 where Chris & Jonny made a concerted effort to get under the skin of our business and understand how they could best help us hone our presentational and empathetic skills. The resulting sessions were hugely helpful giving my team plenty of opportunity to practice and also benefit from a great deal of feedback, not just from Chris & Jonny but by including the rest of the Transact team in the feedback and group learning too. I would highly recommend The Speakers Gym

    Glen Sweet, Head of Sales, Transact

    Transact London


    Working with The Speakers’ Gym has been fantastic. We knew what we wanted to say and who we wanted to speak to, so all we needed was technique. Or so we thought. Chris and Jonny helped us to understand the key elements of communication, through a structured process. We now think about communication in a completely different way. There’s a line they gave us that now resonates in my head, every time I write or talk to someone about what we do. We feel we’ve met two great guys and they’ve become an important part of us, our story and how we tell it to others.

    Thomas Skinner, Founder, Barnaby Cecil Financial Planning

    Barnaby Cecil Financial Planning


    The impact of The Speakers’ Gym™ at Mako can only be described as transformational. Over a three month period, they helped transition a group of individuals into a highly collaborative and consultative leadership team. Chris and Jonny have a unique ability to connect individuals with their true purpose, driving them towards self-reflection and ultimately growth. Overall the entire experience of working with them has been a pleasure and I am deeply grateful for their impact. They more than surpassed my expectations and I look forward to working with them again in the future!

    Trystan Morgan-Schauer, CEO, Mako



    We engaged The Speakers’ Gym to provide us with clarity and direction in the look, feel and messaging of the Worldmaker brand in preparation for our official launch. From start to finish, the process has been truly collaborative. They worked with the expertise and experience in our team to create branding that truly represents who we are and what we represent, whilst moving us into a more modern, expressive space – which was our desire. We know that we’re in great hands with The Speakers’ Gym. We’ll certainly be continuing to work with them

    Mollie Marti, CEO, Worldmaker International

    Worldmaker International


    They first took the time to understand our brief and delivered the programme incorporating our culture and brand throughout. They were thought provoking and their unique techniques very well received.

    Mairi Cameron, Learning Manager, Nucleus Financial



    The Speakers’ Gym gave me the skills and confidence to be my normal self whilst speaking and facilitating. They took the anxiety out of public speaking and gave me practical tools to prepare for and manage public engagements. They also helped me to engage more meaningfully with my clients, for which I am thankful. Highly recommend them.

    Matthew Marais, Director, Vertus Capital

    Vertus Capital


    I found the sessions to be a revelation, and I wish I had known some of the techniques sooner. It has completely changed my mindset and focused me in on the needs of the audience. With that, the ability to achieve those aspirations has come more naturally. There is always room for improvement, and I will definitely be revisiting The Speakers’ Gym for a refresher from time to time.

    Kelly Devlin, Wealth Management Consultant - St. James’s Place Wealth Management

    St. James's Place Wealth Management
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