Effective Working Relationships, Is it a Myth?

By Eric Hansen

Tuesday, February 10th 2015

The midterm election results are in. The outcome is said to have been fueled by the acute inability of Congress and the Executive branch to work together. Now with a Republican majority in the Senate, the nation’s fingers are crossed that parties will collaborate and pass legislation. The Senate's new Republican leader and President Barack Obama have both promised to end the political gridlock, but will anything really improve?

Incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell immediately promised to effectively pass bills. Mr. Obama reinforced that he is also eager to make the next two years as productive as possible. They discussed these things over a symbolic pour of Kentucky bourbon.

Just days later at a White House news conference, the President emphasized that both parties must address the concerns of the American citizens, but added that as President he has a "unique responsibility to try to make this town work.” Subsequently, there have been attempts at joint meetings of both political parties, but early results instill little confidence for change. The overriding tone is best characterized by Mr. Obama’s refrain that "We can surely find ways to work together,” immediately followed by a warning that where he feels it is necessary, he will act alone.

A recent poll indicates that 63% of us want and expect our leaders to work together.* For those old enough to remember it, there was a time when political leaders who disagreed also understood the need to move beyond intractable, dueling, and polarizing ideologies to find the best argument for the greater good. This is a defining characteristic of effective leaders. Seemingly gone are the days of Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan who, despite ideological differences, showed a superior caliber of loyalty to the nation’s citizens and who relied on the strength of a mutually respectful relationship to make positive change. The same was essentially true for Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gingrich, who passed sweeping welfare reform legislation that proved positively beneficial in its impact.

Thoughtful, deliberate, and focused effort to develop positive partnerships is vital to successful leadership. In fact, it is our observation that the strength of a leader’s relationships is among the strongest predictor of sustained success and influence. Yet, with few exceptions, the lack of effective working relationships tops the list in almost every organization diagnostic we do. 

As leaders work to establish positive partnerships, they must keep the following in mind:

Know and understand your colleagues

The tradition of an effective political process requires working across party lines. The work, then, after identifying whom it is you need to work with, is to understand them. Leaders who are relationally effective ask: What motivates those I work with? What critical goals and key milestones are they trying to achieve? What challenges might they be facing? How can I partner with them and contribute to their success? 

Be loyal while avoiding excessive accommodation

Loyalty manifests as a commitment to the success of others and for the group as a whole. In politics loyalty is to your constituency, balanced with the needs of the greater populace and their sustainable prosperity. Loyalty means caring about others’ well-being but not with disregard for a higher purpose or commitment to a common future. Building loyalty requires actively managing a breadth of relationships. It demands a measure of sacrifice, even foregoing immediate self-interest at times. Loyalty precludes playing political or power games. 

Be trustworthy and trusting, but not naïve

Trust is foundational to all healthy relationships, including political. Being trustworthy is a function of competence, the results you deliver, and your integrity of character. Of most important note, given our flavor-of-the-month political hot topics, building trust requires hard work and consistent action and effort over a sustained period. Trust does not come quickly or easily; but once you have it, trust creates a positive multiplier effect, while its absence has an equally debilitating impact. Trust is fragile. One misguided action can erase bonds that have taken years to build. 

Develop self-awareness, not self-involvement

Only when you know yourself and what you stand for can you confidently act as a leader with any degree of credibility. While some politicians have mastered the art of sound bites in the 24-hour news cycle, true leadership requires the conscious ability to identify and reflect on what you really stand for, your values, and what matters most to you. You must look within and strive for greater self-possession; otherwise, how can you know yourself? If you don't know yourself, how can you lead yourself? If you can't lead yourself, how can you possibly lead others? Leaders must develop a third eye -- the ability to stand apart and watch themselves and the dynamics they create in any given situation. Through this you develop valuable understanding -- the ability to see clearly and have empathy for what it is like for others to have a relationship with you.

Remain genuinely grateful and generous to resist entitlement 

Of all the human endeavors where entitlement is a risk, politics certainly tops the list. Gratitude is a tremendously positive and countervailing force. It is a social emotion that strengthens connections because it acknowledges the support and contributions of others. To express gratitude is to recognize that success comes most often with the help of others. Your ability to appropriately express gratitude will engender a chain reaction of emotions among your constituencies -- generosity, delight, pride, and passion among them. It is one of the most generative expressions in any communal endeavor and is one of the most underutilized postures of a leader.  



This field should be skipped by humans.
Comments subject to review.