Leadership does not happen in a vacuum, it only happens in a relationship. And relationships only happen when we connect.
Great leaders have great relationships with people, especially their people. Crappy leaders have poor relationships with their people and usually, pretty well everyone else too.
If you want to be a good leader, you need to work on your relationships and to do that, you need to connect with others.
Purpose Understand the different roles you play and how you play them in relationships. That you relate to others in a particular role that counters the role they are playing. This awareness will enable you to choose better roles and approaches to improve connections and thus relationships.
Process This is quite deep and there's a lot here so do take your time to reflect on the roles you play in life and how you play them. What has worked well for you, and what relationships have worked less well.
Payoff Your awareness alone will help you notice when connections are less than good. With practice and deliberate, conscious thinking, you'll rapidly adjust on the fly and significantly improve your connectional intelligence with others and build stronger, more meaningful relationships.
Raising Your Connectional Interface Intelligence
When we first meet someone, after we establish their name, you'll most likely ask:
“What do you do?”
I'll guess that you've been asked this more than a couple of times. But just how do you answer?
Superficially it's a pretty innocuous question and the majority of responses are over-practiced soundbites loaded and ready for the next time someone cares to show an interest.
I'm an accountant. I'm a director of operations. I'm the CEO of major big business inc. Others will launch into their “elevator pitch”. Either way, most people define themselves to others by the major work role they play in life.
What you really want to know when you ask this question is “How do you earn your paycheck?” “How much money do you make?” “What is your socio-economic status?” And based on that status, where do I fall in ranking compared to you? Am I above or below you? How should I judge you? Are you worth my time? Am I going to invest anything in this relationship and let you come closer to me?
Truth is, you play a lot of very different roles in your life, and the essence of your personality is the sum of the roles that you play.
When you want (or need) to connect with someone else, you are playing a role and so are they. Importantly, it's also HOW you play that role, and HOW they are playing theirs that will help forge that relationship or destroy it!
To raise your connectional intelligence, you need to know:
- WHAT role you are playing (or should be playing), and
- HOW best to play that role with this particular individual.
We'll begin with an overview on how connections, and hence relationships, develop between two people. Then we'll first dig into the WHAT and then the HOW of the roles we play that will build a relationship, and the ways we can easily destroy relationships.
How Connections Develop
WHAT role you play matters.
Everybody is playing a role in a relationship. To build a connection and strengthen that relationship, the role we play must be complimentary to the other person's role, and must include a common link.
Our most developed roles became stronger because we have experience of a more established complimentary role. For example, a good Father-Son relationship develops a strong “Son” role, in recognition of the strong role model, this transfers to a better “Father” role later in life.
A poor Leader-Follower relationship does not develop a strong “Follower” role, and in absence of a good role model, the transfer to a future “Leader” role in later life may be thwarted.
An over-bearing “Teacher” role can stifle normal development of a good “Student” role.
A great Friend helps you be a great Friend.
The more you practice a role with a complementary partner role, the stronger the connection between you and the more power there is in the relationship. Unless…
Some of the roles you play are good, constructive roles. Others are fragmenting and might hurt a relationship. And then there are the ambivalent roles where you have mixed feelings and vacillate on HOW you interact.
What we all want in life is as many good relationships as we desire and as few destructive and unpleasant relationships as possible.
When you want to play politiks without losing your soul, you need to work on adopting complimentary roles for each relationship and have the mental agility and attitudes to flex whilst remaining true to yourself and your values.
My effectiveness as a leader is dependent on the efficacy of the relationship which is the link between the roles. It is the “power” between me and another.
HOW we play the role matters
Constructive connections development is a normal expectation in a complementary relationship.
In an ideal relationship, both parties have well-developed roles and are relaxed with each other allowing and enabling the link between them to be formed and strengthened.
It is both the role and HOW you play the role that complements the other party.
In a constructive role, the role itself is positive and the “HOW” is positive.
“Loving Father” is complemented with a “Secure Child”.
“Inspiring Leader” is complemented by a “Motivated Staff”
Every relationship needs space but how much depends on the strengths of the relationship
Think of the amount of physical space that you need around you in the company of different people. Each of us has a space around us that we perceive belongs to us alone, it is our personal space. I'll bet that you've met someone who came too close and you felt intimidated or sacred? I recall an encounter with a certain Head Chef who talked to me very calmly and politely, but with his faces 2 inches from mine. I have never felt quite so terrified in my life.
A good, constructive relationship allows us to relax, which enables us to reduce anxiety and the amount of personal space needed between us and we can get physically closer.
When someone “invades” our personal space, it increases our anxiety and tension. We become uncomfortable in the relationship which creates the need for even more space. The connecting link in our relationship gets weaker and smaller and will probably even break.
Fragmenting Connections Increase Anxiety and Hurt Relationships
Fragmenting Relationship Connections occur when one (and usually quickly, both) parties adopt a negative role played negatively.
A “Guilty Liar” for example, could cause a previously “Trusting Client” to switch role to “Doubtful Protector”. An “Impatient Interrupter” turns a “Respectful Colleague” into a “Resentful Staff”.
Oftentimes, a fragmenting role is adopted because we are anxious and need more personal space. For example, when a parent returns home exhausted after a dreadful day at work and a horrendous journey home and unable to relate to a “Needy Child”. As a parent I have 3 possible responses:
- Attack or withdraw (a Critter brain, knee-jerk, emotional response)
- Adopt a better-developed role such as that of teacher or manager.
- Adopt a Pseudo Role. We'll come back to these in a short while.
Whichever the choice, the parent role does not develop if it is not used.
Similarly, you could turn up to work after a blazing row with your spouse, topped off nicely with a traffic jam on the way to work and having to walk further than usual in the pouring rain without an umbrella, late for a meeting that could determine your future career.
It is very easy for us to flip into a fragmentary role and connection when anxiety presses upon our lives. It's not as if the rest of the world conspires to make your life a luxurious bed of roses. This is when the The Secret Power of the Pause is an essential weapon in your armoury as you choose a suitable role and attitude before joining the meeting.
Ambivalent Connections Create Strained Relationships… at Best
At least with a Fragmenting Role you quickly know what you're up against. Ambivalent roles come disguised as positive roles played in a negative way. A few client favourites for this include:
- Procrastinating Team Member
- Patronising Manager
- Domineering Colleague
- Whining Staff
- Negative Team-mate
- Abusive Leader
- Bullying Project-lead
- Angry Customer
- Boastful Friend
How do you respond to any of these ambivalent roles?
Most people will confess that withdrawal is their preference. But what if you cannot give up? It may be very tempting to attack back with a similar counter ambivalent role. A few have learned to adopt a near variation of “Patient Empathiser”. Certainly, a relationship built with one of these roles is strained at best.
This is the realm of the “Fake it till you make it” school of success. A Pseudo role and the connections you make with them are copied, non-integrated roles. These are roles that we adopt in certain situations often evident in people who have suffered very high stress levels without the freedom to respond appropriately. They frequently become protection mechanisms.
A Pseudo role is fed by a number of real roles that we have developed and integrated and the good news is that it will be dropped when it is no longer needed.
When adopting a pseudo role, because we are not putting our true self forward. Like wearing a mask, we believe we are protecting our true self from harm by others in the relationship. They are truly “playing” a role – as the word “hypocrite” means.
Relationships built on a pseudo role are doomed. The link may initially appear to be there, but they automatically dissipate or deteriorate when people find new positions or new friends or a new partner.
Common examples in the workplace include the Resume Padder, who has enough knowledge and skill to appear as if they are competent and experienced but time and life catches up quickly.
Another is the Child of the Founder. A high-level placement who turns out to have been thrust into the managerial hierarchy thanks to familial connections and not competence or experience.
Many couples find that the person they married is nothing like the person they dated because now the real spouse emerges from the rose-tinted idealism. And so many found their marriages flailing during the Covid19 quarantine when families discovered that 24/7 was way too much time to be together.
Normal roles we play in life are developed. Mega-roles are over-developed. They dominate due to a lack of stimulation in other roles. And once dominant, they can prevent other roles from being stimulated.
A frequently cited mega role is “managing my children”.
The “Manager”role is highly developed and tends to be used when a more appropriate role, such as “parent” is less well-developed.
Another is the “Technical Specialist” role – the highly developed role that is the reason for your success so far. Terrific when you only need to function as a technical specialist, not so helpful when you need to operate as “Manager” or “Leader” which requires quite a different role to be played.
A coach, for example, who only knows how to relate to people as a coach, may have poorly developed roles as friend or spouse. This means they tend to coach their friends, or worse, coach their spouse.
The trouble with mega roles is that we hate to stop using them. It is, for many, what got them here. Sadly, that role may not get you where you want to go next.
How do we develop alternate behaviours to make better connections?
The first step, using The Secret Power of the Pause, in developing better connections is to recognise the roles of each party. Every role is always played in relation to a counter role. A “parent” role is often appropriately countered by a “child” role, “teacher”-“student”, “manager”-“staff”, “colleague”-“colleague”.
And, we need to consider how the role is being played: For example, a “Concerned Parent” could be countered by an “Obliging Child”… that is likely to work. However, a “Concerned Manager” countered by a “Resentful Staff” is likely to have some relationship issues.
It is often the “HOW” part of doing a particular role that people find the most difficulty in developing. The role itself may stay the same, but the way of playing that role, can change.
- So first, we examine WHAT role we are playing and HOW we are doing it. Is the role I am playing constructive? Is it fragmenting? Is it ambivalent?
- Then we can examine the counter role being played by the other person in the relationship.
- Thirdly, we can examine what we need to change to move the relationship forward. Do I change the role that I am playing? Do I change how I am doing that role? Do I change both?
Please understand that it is YOU who needs to take the lead here. The other party probably doesn't know about this and you have the Curse of Knowledge Bias.
The good news is that by shifting your role or HOW you are playing that role improves your relationship such that you can begin to steer the other party to a more conducive role and approach.
For example, one of your team is stressed out and you, as their manager, are procrastinating. What would you shift to better relate to your “Stressed out Team member”? “Empathetic colleague” might work if appropriate, perhaps “Decisive Leader”.
How about a “Patronising Colleague” tries to engage you after they've made you feel like a “Fearful Child”? The feelings are real because your unconscious already fed your internal state and physiology (remind yourself of The H2H Interface Volume Control section.) Using The Secret Power of the Pause, checking your own cognitive biases, what better, constructive role and approach counters “Patronising Colleague”?
Consider all the major roles that you play in your life, at work and home.
- Which are well developed roles?
- Which are weaker?
- Are there any positive roles that you regularly play in a negative way? Be honest with yourself, it is often these ambivalent roles that destroy relationships. I've noticed that I've aged, I can become impatient and that infects several roles if I am not watchful.
- Do you often use a Pseudo role in particular situations? Is it truly helpful or is it time that you let it go and made a change? I used a Pseudo role when I was Area Manager for a pub and restaurant chain in London. I was really a nerd who was very good at putting computer system in and training people to use them, I was not a good Area Manager for London publicans.
- Perhaps you suspect that you have a mega role? One that tends to dominate when others are less developed? I'm not always the best of friends to have, I can too easily flip into coach mode and guide people to resolve issues rather than simply empathise.
I recommend making a list of all your key roles and finding the best verbs and adverbs to help you recognise your choice of approaches in each role. Once we label these roles, it makes it much easier for your brain to spot them and, when you pause, offer better alternates in the situation.
It may also help you to develop a strong universal type role, building on a role that you use often, that edifies almost anybody. My goto roles are : “Encouraging Cheerleader” (for those who could use a lift in spirits) and “Loving Challenger” (for those who could use a kick up the proverbial).
As you become increasingly aware of your own roles and approaches, you'll become more aware of (your interpretation) of others. Pause a moment and choose a better role or approach and you will soon find that your connections are stronger, your relationships more fulfilling and the results you achieve in life far better.
Enjoy and grace be with you.