I work in a field where relationships are the currency for getting things done. One of the core values of the organization I work for is relationship building. When these core values were being developed, there was very intense debate on whether this would make the final list. A management consultant had said to my colleagues and I some years earlier, “It is all about relationships.” She was correct, and so we fought to have this be one of our core values.
What’s more important than building relationships? Nurturing and supporting them. Relationships need care and attention, or they become less effective and sometimes end. This is true of any relationship, although most of us can think of an example where a long relationship has gone dormant and suddenly springs back to life as if no one had hit the “pause” button.
Effective relationships depend on two main things: trust and credibility.
Paul Perrin, writer of the Learning Leader blog says, “Credibility is huge! It is a big part of building trust which is the foundation to relationships. Without relationships, you won’t lead very far or long.”
I mentioned the credibility bank, which is a term I borrowed from Steve Keating, writer of the LeadToday blog. “You have a credibility bank and it’s an incredibly valuable asset… Every time you do what you say you will you make a small deposit into your credibility bank. Every time you fail to keep a commitment you make a very large withdrawal from your bank.”
Relationships provide us with many things. Even if you are a hermit living in a shack in the middle of nowhere, you still have at least one relationship – with nature. For most of us, we have relationships with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and those we interact with doing the business of living in a society. While every relationship is different, trust and credibility are factors in all relationships.
For this writing, I want to focus on relationships in the work environment. Having worked for numerous organizations, with elected governing bodies, I have observed a variety of elected officials – staff relationships, each with a differing level of confidence and trust. If there is a relationship scale measuring trust and confidence between elected officials and staff, the place I currently work is at the far end of the positive. I have worked at a city that represented the far end of the negative. My observation: It’s better to be at the positive end.
Our elected officials depend on us to provide them with solid technical information, quick response to questions and handling the business of the city that supports their being able to make good policy decisions. Almost always, the Government Body follows our advice and recommendations. Not always, but mostly. Sometimes their questions to us are difficult and pose alternatives to what we recommend. Sometimes their collective decisions are counter to what we recommend. When that happens, we accept it, learn from it (if we can) and we move on.
I have listened to some amazing presentations and discussions in meetings with our Governing Body. I’ve learned about everything from street preservation techniques to stream bank stabilization projects to roundabouts to bike lanes to street lighting standards. The majority of our elected officials are not professional engineers, so you can imagine the process they go through to understand many technical issues and to weigh the public need and the stewardship responsibility they represent. The ability of these folks to quickly understand our projects and to ask very detailed questions is impressive, and it can, at times, be challenging to our staff. Never have I seen our staff shy away from hard questions or fail to give very professional and qualified explanations.
The reputation we have with the Governing Body has been built over the 57 years of the city’s existence. With each interaction, whether it is a phone call, email or official project request, we are going to what we will call the “credibility bank.” Our bank account is our relationship with our elected officials, one we have been building for 57 years, even as members of this relationship have frequently changed over time.
In our credibility bank account, I believe we aim to make every transaction a positive one by providing sound professional advice and recommendations, are respectful and provide timely response and because we understand that our elected officials have difficult jobs and will not always agree or act on our recommendations. While we are not perfect, we give our best effort in each and every transaction. We understand the incredible value of the positive relationship we have with the Governing Body, earned one deposit at a time.
In all of my relationships, it is important to make more deposits than withdraws. Life has unexpected turns and sometimes we need to make a withdraw, to rely on the support and assistance of others. At other times, making a deposit, to nurture that relationship and be the giver, is not only important, but it is natural and it feels good.