There are many theories of what leadership is and what makes a leader. For decades, academics have tried to define what a leader is and what a leader does. Theorists and practitioners have tried to come up with one definition of “leader”, one set of traits that all leaders have. However, no one has been able to come up with an enduring consistent definition or theory.
Leadership is an art, not a science, and this is one of the reasons I love studying and teaching on it. As I synthesize all of the theories and examine the best way to develop as a leader, there is one skill that rises above the rest as the most valuable.
All of the leadership theories try to combine some sort of a matrix between focusing on results and focusing on people; a focus on tasks and a focus on relationships.
If I were to prioritize one of these skills for managers and leaders to learn, I strongly believe that a focus on relationship intelligence rises to the top every time. Unless I know how to relate well to all kinds of people and develop relationships, I will never be able to produce more than what I am able to produce on my own.
Having read lots of studies on what causes turnover or people to leave organizations, the majority of the reasons comes down to a lack of people skills by managers and leaders. Here is a typical list of the top reasons people leave:
- Unhealthy relationships with co-workers or supervisors
- Poor communication
- Unhealthy conflict
- Not developing people’s strengths
- Not being appreciated
- Lack of care about personal life
- Not listening or being available
- Lack of meaning or purpose in their jobs
- Not feeling in on the big picture
All of these are relationship issues. Very little of these have anything to do with what job or tasks people are accomplishing. Generally, teams are not unsuccessful because individuals are unqualified to do their jobs.
Teams fail because leaders fail to pay enough attention to the quality of the relationships.
After the appropriate amount of technical training, most people have the task intelligence to do their jobs. However, most companies invest very little into the relationship intelligence that managers and leaders need to keep their teams working together well, and the cost is huge.
In addition to the damage to organizational culture, relationship intelligence deficit has a high financial cost. Various reports say that the financial cost to replacing people can be as much as:
- 40% of the annual salary for mid-level staff
- 200% of the annual salary for senior-level staff
Think about lost time, lost opportunities, lost team motivation, increase in gossip, absenteeism, and stress. We might have the most technically skilled team in the industry, but if we aren’t successful in relationships, we’ll be mediocre at best.
The missions and visions of our organizations are vital in this world. The world needs our organizations and businesses to succeed. So, the number one thing we as leaders can do to increase the likelihood of impact is to become students of people and relationships. We must constantly increase our relationship intelligence. This is a skill we can never master because people and teams are complex, but it is one we can always be developing. Also, don’t ignore this critical skill because you don’t consider yourself a people person. We can all improve our relationship intelligence if we are self-aware and open to personal growth.
If you are thinking about what investments to make in your business or organization, prioritize investing in the people and relationship skills of your leaders and managers. It is the investment that will bring you the greatest returns.