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Build Strong 360-Degree Relationships
People wish to be confirmed in their being by others. Secretly and bashfully we watch for a yes that comes from another human being.
Martin Buber, philosopher and educator
If you're like so many clients who have told me, "I'm not here to win a popularity contest. I'm here to do my job," this chapter has your name written all over it. Like it or not, you can't be effective in the long run without strong 360-degree relationships. Even more important, when you need a relationship, it's too late to build it. Consider the fates of two equally capable but temperamentally different world leaders: former US President Bill Clinton and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both are intelligent men, politically driven, and charismatic in their own rights, but both encountered serious challenges at the height of their careers.
Despite his many transgressions, both before and during his term of office, Clinton reminded many people of the kid brother who was always getting into mischief but whom they loved anyway. Those who have met him consistently describe him in similar ways: "When he talks to you, hemakes you feel like you're the most important person in the room"; "He talks to you in a way that draws you in"; "He asks you questions about yourself-and actually remembers the answers." I firmly believe the primary reason why Clinton wasn't run out of office for behavior that some would describe as improper and others might call immoral (but most would agree was unbecoming the leader of the free world) was that he was a master at building relationships. He possessed a high likability quotient-something that I address in a later chapter.
To understand how such a bright guy could end up in such hot water, you have only to go back and study his childhood. Young William Jefferson Clinton grew up not knowing his biological father and watching his alcoholic stepfather abuse his younger brother, Roger, and his beloved mother, Virginia. He lived on the wrong side of the tracks, a chubby but intelligent kid. His survival depended on, in part, his ability to be charming and likable. But overdeveloped skill in these arenas became double-edged swords. The same charm that caused Americans to twice elect him president was also used to sexually exploit women. Just as he was elected through the power of his personality, his presidency was tarnished by the behaviors of a man acting much like an emotionally impoverished little boy. Of course, the factors contributing to Clinton's or anyone else's behavior are far more complex than this, but it does give you an idea of how early-childhood experiences contribute to career success-and potential self-sabotage.
Benjamin Netanyahu's political fate was determined by just the opposite phenomenon: the failure to build relationships. Elected prime minister of Israel in 1996 by a victory margin of less than 1 percent, he served only one term before being ousted by an opposing political party. Despite the fact that his policies were met with overwhelming approval from the Israeli people, he was never able to build the kinds of relationships that would support him in the longer term. And in retrospect, he knew that this was a major factor in his downfall. In a January 1999 interview with Time magazine, when asked what he would do differently if he had a second term in office, he replied, "I wouldn't do anything differently on the political side. Where I would do things differently is in the management of egos ... the maintenance, shall we say, of, ah, personal relationships." A look at his more recent forays back into Israeli politics suggest this is a lesson he has yet to master.
This simple truth is one that many people refuse to understand until it's too late: The ability to do your job is contingent upon having relationships in place that will support your efforts, provide you with what you need when you need it, cut you slack when you make a mistake, and act in your best interests during good times and bad. Taking time to build relationships is the best investment of time and energy you can make in your career for the long haul. It may not seem like it when you have to stay late because you took the time to listen to someone who needed an ear or went out of your way to do someone a favor, but believe me, it will pay dividends when you least expect it.
One of my very first coaching clients was a man whom I'll call Sam. He was the director of sales at a large manufacturing company. When the vice president of human resources called me about Sam, she told me that he was an outstanding and valued employee. No fault could be found with the quality of his work. The problem was that his peers didn't want to work with him. They found Sam to be aloof, standoffish, and difficult to work with. Despite the fact that he was technically competent, he would soon become persona non grata if he didn't stop creating problems within the sales department.
Sam arrived at our first coaching session looking every bit the executive. Neatly groomed and impeccably dressed, he appeared to be the very model of professionalism. As we became acquainted with each other through initial superficial conversation, I noted that he spoke with a clarity and confidence that belied his age (he was in his late twenties). When I asked him what skills he thought his management wanted him to develop via coaching, he didn't have a clue. He said he just wanted to do the best job possible and tried to do everything asked of him perfectly so as to make his boss and the department look good. That's when a light went on for me.
The package that Sam presented was indeed one of perfection. On the surface, his image and communication skills were excellent, but my hunch-and it later proved accurate-was that he strived so hard to be perfect for the boss that he overlooked other critical workplace behaviors. I explored this with him by changing tack. I asked what he did for fun outside work. In other words, what was he like when he wasn't being perfect? Unexpectedly, this unleashed a flood of emotion. Sam held back tears as he said that he didn't have much of a life outside work. He was going through a difficult divorce and had three children he rarely got to see because he arrived at work early and left late. By the time he made the hour-long commute home, he was exhausted, grabbing something to eat and then falling into bed. Weekends were spent working; he had little time to pursue activities and friendships he'd once enjoyed.
After carefully listening to him, I asked if perhaps his need for affiliation was fulfilled at work with friends and colleagues. His answer was no. He worked through lunch hours and didn't want to waste the company's time and money on idle chat or gossip with co-workers. He did notice that his peers seemed to spend time engaged in casual conversation-which he felt was fine for them, but he didn't have the time to spare for chitchat. He wanted to model appropriate behavior for his staff, so he worked at a steady, energetic pace throughout the workday and often into the night.
What others interpreted as standoffishness, or being difficult to deal with, was really just Sam's need to be the perfect employee. Having grown up with strict German parents, he developed the defense mechanism of striving for perfection early in life so as to ward off critical comments from his parents and older siblings. The need to be perfect underscored not only his workplace relationships, but his personal ones as well. One reason his marriage had failed was that he felt his wife didn't understand his high standards. Even though he never said anything to his colleagues, they picked up on the fact that he was critically assessing them. He found their personal conversations self-indulgent and didn't feel that anyone else worked as hard as he did-which was in fact true. No one else shared his compulsive need for perfection.
WHEN TECHNICAL EXPERTISE CEASES TO BE ENOUGH
Sam is an ideal example of someone who, despite technical competence and genuine desire to be of service, was on the verge of causing serious damage to his career. An infrequently talked about fact of business life is that at some point in most people's careers, technical expertise ceases to be the key factor contributing to success. We build our reputations early in our careers on competence. We remain successful, however, based on a combination of competence and the eight factors described in this book. Once you have proven your technical abilities in your field, competence becomes a given-something that others depend and rely on, but not something that necessarily will continue to move you forward. It's as though your competence reaches the point of diminishing returns. If you continue to focus exclusively on gaining increased technical skill to the exclusion of developing complementary behaviors, you'll become professionally unbalanced. If a prizefighter has a killer right uppercut but can't move deftly on his feet, it will do him no good to continue to develop that uppercut. He needs complementary strengths that will help him win bouts, not just rounds.
Review the checklist on page 43 to see how well you build one-on-one relationships. Ideally, you would check every item here (as well as with each checklist contained in subsequent chapters). The fewer items you check, the greater the likelihood that this is a potential developmental area for you.
INTERPERSONAL SKILLS: DIFFERENTIATING YOURSELF FROM THE PACK
In a competitive job market, employers are careful to choose people for their past experience, education, and previous on-the-job success. In other words, they select people who are good at what they do. Once on the job, however, when the playing field is level with equally qualified employees, it's the subtler behaviors that distinguish the fast-trackers from those who remain stagnant or are overlooked for new opportunities. Those with superior interpersonal skills, combined with technical capability, are perceived as a more valuable asset than those who exhibit only technical competence. It is through positive working relationships that we secure the cooperation of the people we need to accomplish our tasks and further the organization's goals. These interpersonal skills also help us to develop the goodwill of clients and customers and a network of people on whom we can rely for the skills and information required to function effectively.
_____ I know the names of the people on my floor.
_____ I notice when something is troubling a colleague and inquire about it.
_____ I schedule time throughout the day for small talk with co-workers.
_____ I meet socially with co-workers outside the workplace.
_____ I tend to go out of my way for colleagues- even if I see no immediate benefit.
_____ I see building relationships as equally important to accomplishing my job tasks.
_____ Other people describe me as a good listener.
_____ I know the names of the husbands, wives, significant others, and children of my co-workers.
_____ I share personal information and discuss topics of common interest with my co-workers.
_____ I treat administrative professionals the same as I treat executive management.
_____ I have lunch several times a week with co-workers.
In Sam's case, coaching alone wasn't sufficient to help him remain relevant and competitive in his work environment. The presence of a deep-seated need for perfection suggests intrapersonal conflicts that required professional counseling. Fortunately, when this was recommended to Sam, he was open to the idea and followed up on it. His coaching sessions then focused on several specific things that he could do immediately to change the impression others had of him. He is a good example of someone who had several overlapping areas of development. Sam needed not only to do a better job of building one-on-one relationships, but also to be perceived as a better team player and to begin thinking about the importance of networking. My work with him addressed all three areas.
His first assignment was to spend no less than fifteen minutes each day engaged in casual conversation with a different co-worker-even if he had to force himself to do it or put it on his calendar as a reminder to get up and do it. I wanted him to get to know his colleagues personally-to find out what outside interests and hobbies they had, the names of their children, and what made them tick. If you're anything like Sam, your heart is beating a little faster at just reading this-or you may be making mental excuses why it's not possible. Suggesting they do this makes some people feel as if they are robbing the company coffers, when in reality they are investing in relationships that have a long-term benefit to the company. Building such relationships enables the work to be done more efficiently, with less sabotage and higher team morale. That saves the company money, it doesn't waste it.
Similarly, I recommended that initially Sam take a lunch break at least once a week and use the time for something he enjoyed. The adage All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy was certainly true in this case. Part of what made it so difficult for Sam to talk to others was that he felt he had nothing to say. He had become so immersed in his work that he was oblivious to outside interests. Sam decided to make use of the company gym to work out. At the gym, he met several co-workers with whom he shared common interests and eventually became friends; he started to have lunch and socialize with them after work. He began to expand his network.
In an effort to coach him to be a better team player, I recommended that Sam listen to the concerns co-workers expressed at team meetings and later offer to help resolve some of these concerns rather than use his time to perfect and fail-safe his already good work. He could put his compulsive work behaviors to good use by extending himself to those who needed his assistance. In other words, he could win back their regard by making not only his boss look good, but his colleagues as well. In the process, he was building what is described as network reciprocity-the exchange of services and favors within formal and informal networks. The importance of networks is discussed in detail in a later chapter, but for now suffice it to say that Sam had to identify and participate in the quid pro quo of his workplace relationships.
It wasn't easy for him, but Sam worked hard to change the perceptions of others as he successfully learned how to overcome his strengths. It also wasn't always two steps forward. As with most people learning a new skill, it was sometimes one step forward, two steps back. As a result of his effort, however, Sam was promoted to a new position in a different division of the company, started spending more time with his children, and now reports that the quality of his life is better than he has ever known it to be.
UNDERSTANDING THE QUID PRO QUO
Inherent to every relationship there is a quid pro quo- something given in exchange for something else. Without realizing it, you exchange things with people all the time. When relationships fail or falter, it's typically because the quid pro quo isn't recognized, or it changes without the consent or acknowledgment of one or both of the parties involved. I remember working with one woman who was concerned with her troubled employment history. It seemed that she had no trouble getting a job. In fact, she was never without one for long. She was technically competent, physically attractive, and interpersonally capable. Clearly, she presented well in interviews and secured most of the jobs for which she interviewed. The problem was that once she was in the job, she became quickly dissatisfied and disillusioned. Her employers wouldn't give her challenging assignments or recognize her technical capability.
Excerpted from Stop Sabotaging Your Career by Lois P. Frankel Copyright © 2007 by Lois P. Frankel. Excerpted by permission.
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