Business Relationship Training

A New Value Proposition For Leaders

By Ed Wallace posted 10-26-2020 08:10 AM

By Ed Wallace
“My business is built on relationships!”
Most executives and managers will tell you
that strong human relationships are critical
to their success. They say they also need their
team members and employees to be great at
developing and maintaining relationships,
collaborating, innovating, advocating for
company goals and keeping the organization
functioning effectively. These leaders would say
human relationships—as opposed to digital or
what I like to call “‘ethereal”’ relationships—are
central to their ability to influence and inspire
individuals to achieve their organization’s
mission. Whether it’s external or internal
business relationships, we need to understand
how people think and act, what it takes for
someone to want to listen to you, help you,
work for you, work with you, and even buy
from you.
Candice Bennett and Associates Inc. recently
conducted a survey of Fortune 500 executives
across all business functions. It found that 89
percent of executives believe the strength of
customer and employee relationships is the
main reason they achieve their performance
objectives every year. However, the survey goes
on to indicate that only 24 percent of corporate
leaders formally think about relationships
from a process perspective. Therefore, very few
leaders take any kind of structural, systematic
approach to doing this.
Relational Leadership
I find it paradoxical: if relationships are so
important, why are leaders unable to display
“‘intentionality” toward them? The answer
is due to the fluid, unpredictable nature of
business relationships that makes companies
struggle with just how to capitalize on their
potential. In fact, many business leaders
view developing business relationships as an
instinctive mind-set rather than an approach
based on beliefs, new skills and a repeatable
process. I’ve heard the phrase, “We focus on
hiring and growing people with the most
magic”—and they hope that magic will rub
off on everyone else. The common result is
a haphazard, almost accidental process of
relationship development. In other words,
they do the best they can with relationships as
the opportunities come along, and then they
hope for the best. However, there is a solution
to overcoming the risks of this approach,
and it begins with the way leadership’s value
proposition is evolving.
In my recent book, “The Relationship
Engine,” I quote Tom Feeney, president and
CEO of Safelite AutoGlass, who said, “It is no
longer enough to merely direct action; today
we must inspire and empower belief which
requires us to build more trusting relationships
with people than ever before. This applies to
leading people within your organization and it
applies to becoming a leading brand. Customers
no longer buy what you sell; they buy what
you stand for. Relevant and sustainable
brands are those that build love, loyalty and
trusting relationships with their customers
and employees.” Wow, this was the first time I
ever heard a CEO use the word “love” in their
description of leadership!
Such is the paradigm shift for Safelite’s
leaders. Their job descriptions now contain
phrases like “Think People First” and “Caring
Heart” to describe required characteristics
and expected interactions with both associates
and customers. To date, this leadership
“transformation” is evidenced (quantitatively
and subjectively) by their rapid growth and
strengthening business results. Safelite’s
“relational leaders” strive to become the kind
of people that other people enjoy working with
and focus on winning every day through the
impact they have on other human beings.
Then what exactly is a “relational leader”?
First, this is not an exclusive club for senior
A New Value Proposition for Leaders
32 | | Construction Equipment Distribution | April 2017
executives. Anyone can be a relational
leader, unlike many leadership models that
focus mainly on management and highpotential employees. I continue to marvel
at the relational leaders I meet at all levels
throughout companies and even a few who
are not part of organizations at all. Second,
a relational leader’s value proposition is to
create a superior experience for others as the
key driver of business performance. That
experience can manifest itself anywhere from
working on a corporate strategy all the way
down to greeting someone you run into in the
company parking lot. Finally, relational leaders
“competitor-proof” their organizations and
themselves through a consistent, intentional
focus on investing in the relational capital—the
distinctive value created by people in a business
relationship—needed to drive performance
in today’s quickly commoditized business
What’s Missing?
So why are leaders missing the relational
mark? My experience, through many years
of research into business relationships and
working with over two hundred fifty companies
and organizations, has shown me that there
are five identifiable principles that lead to
intentional relationship development and, not
surprisingly, superior performance. They are
at the very heart of the practice of the most
successful leaders at all levels in organizations
and life. The Five Principles of the Relational
Leader are as follows:
1. Display Worthy Intent
2. Care About People’s Goals, Passions, and
3. Make Every Interaction Matter
4. Value People Before Processes
5. Connect Performance to a Purpose
Figure 1 The Five Principles of the Relational
Relational Agility
These principles form a system of beliefs
for high performers that relational leaders
follow and apply intentionally. I define this
intentionality as the way relational leaders
coordinate a principled, purposeful and
practical relational approach. This results in
a competency that I call relational agility that
allows them to bridge the generational gaps
that exist today between Boomers, Gen Xers
and Millennials; navigate the corporate maze;
and collaborate with people to harness their
collective talent, thought and effort. Through
my experiences and research, I know they can
be learned, practiced and improved, bringing a
surprising level of precision to relationships in
This begins with the first principle, known
as Display Worthy Intent: putting the other
person’s goals and values at the forefront of each
business relationship, creating an exceptional
experience for others. Relational leaders
then apply the remaining principles to create
relationships that immunize them against all
competitors both within and outside their
Also, this new competency of relational
agility allows relational leaders to create/
advance relationships at three defined
dimensions based on the goals they are
pursuing together:
Colleague: relationship of businesspeople
who have not worked on common goals
Professional Peer: relationship of working
together as peers despite different roles or
hierarchy in the business relationship
Advocate: career-spanning relationship
Figure 2, above, provides an illustration of
how to apply relational agility to these three
We all create plans and strategies for many
aspects of life: education, careers, building a
home, retirement, and even playing games with
our children. So why leave the development
of important business relationships largely to
improvisation or magic, when even magicians
have a disciplined process to accomplish their
illusions? Relational leaders deliver on the
new value proposition for leadership through
a strategic, intentional focus on their business
relationships using the five principles and
the process that I’ve shared in this article.
Companies that “invest in relational capital” will
be the long-term winners in today’s complex
business environment.
Everything can be commoditized, digitized
or outsourced, except for relationships!