Leaders Build Relationships. Do you?

Leaders Build Relationships. Do you?

Many discussions on leadership start with a simple definitional question. Whether it is a twitter chat, a classroom setting, or just a casual conversation among business leaders, it is very common to hear someone say, “How do you define [a specific leadership trait]?” It was Sophocles who said the beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.

When Sustained Leadership WBS was published, it received many very nice reviews. Two in particular are relevant here in that they suggested that a significant contribution the book made to the literature was that it proposed a common lexicon for leadership. By using the Work Breakdown Structure and its Work Breakdown Structure dictionary (disciplines borrowed for the field of project management) each of the 229 elements are defined. While certain aspects of each of these definitions can be debated, and that debate is most welcome in the comments, there is at least a baseline from which a productive discussion can arise.

Thus begins this series of posts that relate to the definitions of leadership. Let’s have a discussion on how we should define the many aspects of leadership.

Today the topic is relationships.

WBS Dictionary: Connecting with people is a critical leadership ability. While everyone has relationships, too often they are measured by quantity such as Facebook friends or Twitter followers rather than quality. This WBS element reflects the quality of relationships to the exclusion of quantity. Leaders tend to have three major categories of relationships—a social network; followers, subordinates, or those positionally above us in a hierarchy; and family. Each of these is unique as compared to the others. This network is important for social development, companionship, and social order.


Business is always conducted from a relational perspective. Sales professionals will tell you that people prefer dealing with those they like and will avoid those they dislike. Being “likeable” then becomes a critical success factor in sales. The same is true in life. We gather with those we like and avoid those we dislike, regardless of the setting.

Leaders develop a vast network of associates. The leader can become a figurehead to whom people look up. They often serve as mentors to those in and out of their organization. Likeable people are frequently introduced to others and recommended for friendships and business opportunities; less likeable people are not. The relational base of a leader’s associates is critical to their success; the team they lead will be part of that relational base and will expand based on their depth of maturity as a leader as reflected in their leadership traits, including the ability to foster beneficial relationships.

Quality of Relationships

Some people are less relational. Introverts, for example, do not have the need to gather in groups. Such activities create stress for them. This does not mean that they lack relational skills. In fact, most introverts have far fewer friends and associates than more gregarious or extroverted people, but the perceived quality of those relationships tends to be more significant. They do not seek 20,000 twitter followers; they seek a much smaller number of people with whom they can interact on an individualized level. Quality over quantity.

Friends and Family

It has been said that friends are family that we select. Familial bonds are strong, but that does not mean that every blood (or adoptive) relation is someone with whom we would necessarily choose to have as a close personal friend. Choices must be made on our ability to deal with people and whether to deal with them in groups or individually.

Regardless, sustained leaders understand the importance of relationships and will adjust their behavior to attract those with whom they feel comfortable and will interact with them on a regular basis. They understand the categories of relationships and do not improperly exploit or coerce the individual members of their network inappropriately.

Sustained leaders will not act in a Machiavellian fashion with their relationships and will follow the golden rule of treating others as they would prefer to be treated. They do this in a sincere and genuine way. And they work very hard to be the person to whom others are attracted and seek to have in their network. They cultivate friendships and build relations with a great diversity of people. Sustained leaders are not really leading anything if they do not have a network of followers.

Take Stock of your Relationships

Have you taken an inventory of your network and assessed the quality of those relationships? What might you do to improve the quality of your relationships? This starts with you making a decision to be the bet “you” that you can possibly me. In other words, look internally first. You can’t catch anything worth keeping if you aren’t trolling with the right bait. Being the best “you” is the best “bait” to use when building your network and developing relationships.

This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section 1.1.1 Relationships.

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With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.



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