Power of Relationships: How the Power of Relationships Fuels Leadership and Culture

A few years ago, in an annual performance calibration meeting, our CIO explained why a Business Relationship Manager (BRM) from my team should get an “exceeds expectation” rating. To drive his point, he went on by saying, “If this person asks the pilot of our corporate plane to turn around while in mid-flight, the pilot will turn around.” He was probably more figurative in his argument, but what he really meant to say was that this BRM established such strong and trusted business relationships that he has gained power of influence.

I believe that Power of Relationships is one the greatest factors in determining an organization’s success. “If the results are not there, I go looking at what relationships are broken,” said Darrel Popowich as he opened 2021 World BRMConnect.  Relationships is “the state of connectedness between two or more people which dictates the manner in which they interact, communicate, and behave with each other in pursuit of a shared organizational purpose.”1

Smart vs. Heart

The breakout show of the pandemic has been Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso,” and it has gotten an additional boost from its multiple Emmys this year. Ted Lasso is an American college football coach who improbably finds himself coaching the fictional English football club AFC Richmond. The premise is that the owner hired an unqualified coach to spite her ex-husband who loves the team. The owner assumed that Lasso didn’t have enough “smart”, meaning knowledge of the game, strategy, and tactics to succeed as coach. The owner underestimated the “heart” of Ted Lasso. He ended up building a stronger and more cohesive team that brought the best in everyone. Ted Lasso led with empathy by letting each person he interacted with feeling cared for. He stayed grounded and humble to accept feedback and let others fill in where they could. More importantly, he built powerful relationships with the owner, front office, coaching team, team captain, players fans, media, and community.

One of the best explanations for this comes from another comedy sitcom from the 50s, I Love Lucy. Ricky, Lucy’s husband, came home and found Lucy looking for one of her earrings in their living room. Ricky then asked Lucy if she lost it in the living room. She replied, “No, I lost it in the bedroom. But the lights out here is much better.” “Most leaders prefer to look for answers where the light is better, where they are more comfortable. And the lights are certainly better in the measurable, objective, data-driven world of organizational intelligence than the messier, more unpredictable work of organizational health.”2

“The power of relationships in an organization provides the groundwork for leadership and culture. In turn, leadership and culture provide the context for strategy, execution, and continuous development.

Begs the question: Why are there not enough leaders that embrace power of relationships?”

Leadership and Culture

Unlike management systems and processes that tend to be linear, “leadership requires a more nuanced view of the world because it involves people: what motivates them, what their interests are, and how engaged they become”.3 Leadership and culture involves deep understanding of the power of relationships that underlies the state of connectedness between people, their interaction, communication, and behavior in pursuit of a shared organizational purpose. It requires leaders to go out of their comfort zone (SMART) and embrace people leadership, and the power of relationships in pursuit or organizational health (HEART). 

There are few universal competencies and behaviors associated with leaders, such as integrity, judgement, resilience, decision-making capacity, analytical ability, charisma, and communication skills. These timeless leadership competencies still apply today. As I reflect on the shift in leadership that is needed in today’s world, I examined other leadership competencies needed in the light of major changes we are currently experiencing. Leadership competencies that leverage connectedness, as well as drive agility. Competencies that bring more focus to HEART side of the equation.

  • Humble: An ability to accept feedback and acknowledge that others know more than you.
  • Adaptable: An acceptance that change is constant and that changing your mind based on new information is a strength rather than a weakness.
  • Vulnerable: Being vulnerable doesn’t make leaders weak, it allows them to show people their authentic self.
  • Engaged: A willingness to listen, interact, and communicate with internal and external stakeholders combined with a strong sense of interest and curiosity in emerging trends.

Leadership is the ultimate lever to evolving culture. An organization’s culture doesn’t just materialize, and it isn’t random. It reflects human behavior, which is why it is often defined using human traits. More specifically, culture is an echo of all the interactions and relationships between any people having anything to do with the organization, past or present. Leadership and culture do not exist as independent things, they overlap or combine. Those unseen connections (relationships) are fundamental ingredients and key determinants of everything. Thus, the power of relationships in an organization provides the groundwork for leadership and culture.

This culture pyramid derived from the book, Change the Culture, Change the Game, is one of the best frameworks to define culture. “Leaders create experiences. Experiences foster beliefs. Beliefs drive actions and actions delivery results.” The combination of experiences, believes and actions is the culture of an organization.

Most initiatives that are heavily biased on the SMART side of the equation tends to focus on the top part of the pyramid: actions and results. This is when leaders take the short cut when trying to improve results. By just calling the team to action: “sell more to increase profit”, “streamline production process to increase throughput” or “standardize processes to improve economies of scale”. I am not saying these are bad initiatives. After all, these actions deliver results that are tangible, measurable, and more predictable. However, it more likely will result in short-term progress or quick wins.

As early as 1990s, few thought leaders and authors were starting to write more about leadership than management that ruled the “Peter Drucker business world”. Change was becoming normal, and life was moving faster. This translated even more so in the business world with advancement in technology; where cycles of innovation and transformation led to the disruption of industries, and the creation of new ones. Unprecedented events in human history, like the current COVID19 pandemic brought the complexity of our world come screaming into view. It is changing the way we live and work.

Leaders who balance SMART with HEART will consider all the elements on the pyramid – company experience, employee beliefs and ingrained practices – and then ensure that what you change is sustained. The right experiences and belief foster powerful relationships between different people in the organization, that in turn build commitment and lasting impact. The actions then initiated by change initiative delivers results that is sustainable and resilient. 

1 BRM Institute, The Relationship-Centered Organization: Accessing Infinite Value Through Relationships https://brm.institute/relationship-centered-organization-system/

2 Patrick Lencioni, The Advantage, Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything in Business, 2012

3 John C. Maxwell, Leader Shift, The 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Mush Embrace, 2019