It’s About Building Relationships

Over the years we have profiled many top leaders in this column. We have also shared to the best of our ability universal principles of leadership that great leaders at all levels may have in common. We of necessity make allowance for multiple different leadership styles so that our readers can build confidence in their own leadership style based on individual circumstances and talents.

In general most leadership commentators agree that people relationships are at the core of leadership effectiveness. One can only get so far by relying on our self. It is very difficult if not impossible to multiply as a leader without relying on people. It is also very difficult to embrace any real degree of happiness and fulfillment without somehow building relationships along the way.

The core of leadership power lies in relationship dynamics.

To quote from one of our recent Leadership Gems in this column: ‘Many of us tend to address relationship challenges from a distance, rather than personally on a one on one basis. We have daily reports in the media of conflicting opinions between individuals. It is so much easier to communicate via the media, email, or other electronic means. Obviously these electronic networks provide us with immense communication advantages that we did not have a few years ago. But they also tend to obscure the deeply personal nature of personal relationships and as a result many of us are losing what ability we had in the first place to address personal differences on a personal basis face to face. Great leaders are committed to personal relationships”.

The recent articles written by Adriaan Groenewald as a result of his leadership conversations with President Zuma and Julius Malema (reported in the Leadership Platform column in Business Report) brings to our attention once again how easily things can go wrong between individuals at all levels once the basic process of personal contact is pushed aside for some reason or other. Both these leaders have well above average charm and ability to communicate face to face, yet for some reason or other they failed to resolve their differences face to face. It appears that over the years they have very rarely got together to discuss issues on a one on one basis. Their personal relationship took a nose dive. In this article we are not trying to decide who was right and who was wrong, but to use this well publicized relationship or lack of relationship as an example that you and I can learn from. 

It is not the lack of communicating talents of these two prominent leaders that is the problem, but the lack of applying such talent on a one on one basis. For an example, over the years President Zuma has demonstrated in many ways his ability to listen and respond positively to other people of sharply differing backgrounds. We have spoken to several individuals across the political and social spectrum who confirms this to be true. Yet it appears that he did not fully apply this ability in his relationship with the key leader of the ANC Youth League. Adriaan Groenewald asked for some response from the President about the allegations of Julius Malema but at the time of writing this article he had not received a reply. I have no doubt that the response by the President will contain some solid justifications for his approach to his personal relationship with Julius Malema.  

We can find many professional rationalizations for discarding a one on one relationship. Some of these are fully justified. After all, it is very difficult to develop a warm personal relationship with somebody who has broken into your home and is threatening you with an automatic weapon!  

Speaking as an elderly and experienced relationship and leadership consultant, it is my desire for readers to understand that all our abilities and resources cannot really compensate for the ability and passion to clear the air between people on a personal basis. As we move up in leadership responsibility, a one on one relationship may become more and more difficult. We may feel that out of necessity we have to leave such personal relationships with our reports that in turn have to leave this to others who report to them. Trusting our reports is a principle that we need to respect. Having said this, we believe that there are ways and means that can help us develop and maintain quality personal relationships with many others, especially with key stake holders around us, including especially our spouses and children of course.

A few key points to consider in maintaining personal relationships with key stake holders:

  1. Our personal self image and respect for whom and what we are is the foundation of the ability to relate well to others. An arrogant leader is very unlikely to develop special respectful relationship with others. On the other hand, a person who has a low self esteem will also battle to relate confidently to others. A person’s religious and spiritual understanding of whom and what they are is a crucial factor in building confidence in personal relationships.
  2. Judging others at a distance is a dangerous practice. It may be acceptable practice in a modern democratic system to speak freely and assumingly about others, but it is an immature and irresponsible habit to judge any situation, let alone people, without looking closely at all the facts and without speaking to the other person personally.
  3. Make time for personal relationships. We find many leaders do this and often find the benefits to be profound. Last week we profiled a young dynamic leader from Discovery, Themba Baloyi who told us of his commitment to ‘give others a voice’. This may not always be all that easy, but it is certainly worth our time to invest in respecting others by ‘giving them a voice’. Recently in a personal leadership conversation I was told by a senior engineer in a large gold mining company how they decided to hold an extra meeting on a daily basis in order to give all stake holders a voice. The first meeting was dominated by negative comments but a few days later the tone of the meetings changed dramatically and the resultant unity certainly justified giving their people a ‘voice’. Make time for personal relationships. In some cases it requires a regular hour or so in a one on one. In many cases our leadership attitude towards respecting others can generate brief but incisive opportunities to share and listen to those who may or may not be direct reports but are essential to our leadership tasks. A smile, a touch, a question, a compliment, a nod of the head can go a long way!

It boils down to the fact that when people believe that they are respected and are more important than projects as such, they invariably respond positively. Behaviour is changed for the good on a personal basis. Negative behaviour is also generated on a personal basis or to put it differently, negative habits are very often generated because of a lack of positive personal relationships.

This article appeared in the:

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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