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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: Benefits of Humanizing Relationships at Work
5-Apr-11 [ by Larry Chao ] 16440 Read and 1 Comment

Lately‚ management gurus have been spending a lot of time teaching us how to change to become better leaders‚ writes Larry Chao.


They offer role models such as Jack Welch‚ Abraham Lincoln and even Jesus and Attila the Hun.  They recommend habit change‚ offer irrefutable laws‚ disciplines and formulas.  They even concoct recipes for improving so-called emotional intelligence.


Go to any Asia Books or Kinokuniya book store and you will be overwhelmed by the number of titles on leadership.  There is certainly no shortage of advice on how to be a better leader.


Intellectually‚ it is not difficult to see the value of good leadership traits and practices.  But how much can a manager really change before becoming a different person?  How can he or she override genetic disposition and years of conditioning?


People dispense management advice with the best intentions to help us change and grow.  We attend workshops and receive executive coaching designed to make us better leaders.  The problem is sustaining desired behaviors that are not naturally ours.


Teaching individuals how to change to become better leaders is useful‚ but it has its limits.  Either you get it‚ want to practice and improve‚ or you do not. 


Citing the benefits of better leadership and then browbeating people into behaving differently has reached a point of diminishing returns.  There are simply too many recipes and variations for successful leadership.  People have been overexposed to the point where the definition of effective leadership has lost its meaning.


Using 360-degree feedback to show leaders how other people perceive them and the impact of their behaviors is enlightening and usually results in tangible skill development‚ such as better coaching and delegation.  But as with most behavior change efforts‚ the challenge is how to sustain results over time.


Perhaps it is worth considering another approach.  Rather than focusing on individual behavior change‚ why not focus on humanizing interpersonal relationships between individuals?


This approach builds on the Eastern philosophy of achieving goals by focusing on what is common between people‚ rather than differentiating individuals and trying to modify their behavior.  It stresses dialogue‚ understanding and mutual respect. 


According to this philosophy‚ familiarity humanizes relationships so that people treat each other as individuals‚ not as anonymous strangers.  People work more productively with those who they know‚ trust and have something in common with.


As obvious as this sounds‚ we often overlook the benefits of relationships and rely instead on changing people to fit in.


There are plenty of examples of employees‚ who have unpleasant experiences working for difficult bosses.  People stay away from them to avoid the brunt of their bad behavior.  Trying to change their behavior is like asking a chair to become a table.    


Yet this avoidance strategy does nothing to solve the problem and improve leadership effectiveness.  Despite mutual objectives‚ subordinates and bosses remain distant.  Working relationships are superficial and lack humanity.


This is not productive and everyone suffers.  No wonder the number one reason why people leave their jobs is because they can?t get along with their boss!


At the same time‚ we marvel at employees‚ who have somehow managed to survive working for a tough boss.  We admire their resilience‚ but are glad we are not in their shoes.  If you talk to these people‚ they will usually tell you that their boss ?is not really that bad once you get to know him.? 


The reason they can work so effectively with their boss is not because they have avoided him‚ or because they have changed his behavior‚ but because boss and subordinate have developed a meaningful relationship.  They have learned to tolerate and accept their differences.


No‚ it is often not easy to accomplish‚ but it is certainly easier than asking people to be different.  We often overlook the power of good relationships to gain cooperation and solve problems.


The problem today is that many organization structures and work cultures conspire against developing healthy relationships.  Hierarchy and functional silos put up invisible barriers between people and prevent them from being comfortable and honest with each other. 


Different job titles‚ status and seniority act to further distance people from each other and make it difficult to connect and build trust.


People can learn certain leadership skills.  They might even mellow over time‚ but they do not really change.  Senior executives are pretty much the same people they were when they were management trainees.


The real opportunity lies in humanizing interpersonal relationships‚ where leaders learn to respect their co-workers as individuals‚ not strangers.

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