Great Leaders Focus on Relationships

By: Randy Wolken, President & CEO

The best leaders I have ever worked with knew how to form and maintain outstanding relationships. Sure, they were competent and worked hard.  They had to.  We all have to. But, the defining factor of moving from good to great is relationships.  This is also the true secret to a happy life.

So, how do we create deep and caring relationships?  Luckily, modern science has helped us determine this.

We all want people who care for us.  We just do.  It is a large part of who we are as people.  Science has shown it is hard-wired into us as human beings.  So, it is natural for us to seek and want to stay with leaders who know how to be in deep, caring relationships with us.  Also, we have very high awareness of when someone is faking a relationship with us.  We just know.  Given that up to 90 percent of communication is non-verbal, this should come as no surprise.  We cannot pretend to care for someone – we must actually do it and be genuine about it.

If we can’t fake it, then what is it we must actually do to create and maintain deep, life-giving relationships?  Science gives us three essential qualities to meaningful and lasting relationships.  When I learned about them, I immediately recognized them as the qualities of every relationship that has made me happy.  Now I intentionally try to create relationships with these qualities in them.

The first quality of great relationships is empathy.  We must seek to understand and empathize with the other person – and them with us.  We need to listen, learn, and seek to truly understand them.  We have to care by getting to know them and letting them get to know us. Empathy involves more than knowledge – it involves investment.  When they hurt – we hurt.  When they are happy – we are happy.  Empathy is about connecting at the deepest human level.  It’s why I remind myself that I am first a “human being” well before I am a “human doing.”

The second quality of great relationships is positivity.  We must bring our positive outlooks and world views to our relationships. We must believe in them and their ability to add value to our lives and our organizations.  Negativity can drain the life out of any relationship. Being positive is critical.  Finding the positive is a gift that leaders need to practice.  This does not mean we don’t seek to improve the actions needed to get our outcomes – we must. It means we must do so knowing we – and others – will make mistakes and we will, and can, get better.  Great leaders, and people, are inherently positive.

Finally, we must be grateful. Gratitude is the “secret sauce” of long-lasting relationships.  When we are grateful for a person in our lives it shows in everything we do.  In fact, my number one habit for leaders is to develop an “attitude of gratitude.”  Put this into your life and you will begin to see your entire world change around you.  Although I saved this for last, start here first.  Because how could you not be both empathetic and positive if you are grateful for the other people in your life?  You can’t. It just isn’t possible. Every day one of the first things I do is count my blessings.  I am grateful for the people in my life and how they make my life rich and meaningful.

This week Denise and I celebrated our 31st Wedding Anniversary. As I reflected back on 31 remarkable years (and they went way to fast) I can see how empathy, positivity, and gratitude have played a big part in just how happy we are.  I can honestly say I have never loved Denise more and never been more grateful than now.  That is, until tomorrow, when we will use these critical habits of empathy, positivity, and gratitude to make our relationship even deeper.

How are you working on making your relationships great?  An important question for all of us.


Looking for more? Download my Amazon Bestseller, Present-Future Leader:  How to Thrive in Today’s Economy.