How to strengthen relationships with your team

If your relationships with team members are suffering, you might be approaching them the wrong way. John Eades outlines seven things managers can do to turn things around

No one wants to go to work every day dreading the amount of time they’re going to spend with their boss. At the same time, I don’t know any sane leader who looks forward to having bad relationships with their team members. So the question then becomes, why are so many relationships between team members and their leaders a major part of the reason people are unhappy at work?

The answer: Most leaders have the equation wrong. The majority of leaders believe team members are responsible for the relationship with their leader. This belief puts the ownership of worthiness, trust, ability, respect and work ethic on the shoulders of others.

The correct equation is: Leaders are responsible for their relationship with each individual team member.

In this drastically different approach, leaders know they are ultimately the ones responsible for building relationships based on trust, respect, work ethic, forgiveness and accountability. These leaders model the behaviours they want to see, communicate well with their team and allow their team members to choose to meet or exceed the standards set. This doesn’t mean the relationship isn’t a two-way street, but it means the leader takes ownership and responsibility for it.

Knowing that ownership and responsibility for work relationships starts with leaders, here are seven wise habits you can leverage to strengthen those relationships.

1. Remove your ego
Ryan Holiday, the author of Ego Is the Enemy, defines ego as “an unhealthy belief in our own importance … the need to be better than, more than, recognised for far past any reasonable utility”. If this is you, your people won’t want to follow or work hard for you. It’s that simple.

2. Focus on trust with each team member
When I ask in our Welder Leader workshop, “Who is responsible for the bond of mutual trust between leader and team members?”, the overwhelming answer is “team members”. And they’re wrong. Trust is built between leader and team member by the actions and behaviour of the leader, not the other way around. People will judge your trustworthiness by your character, expertise and how well you share your expertise with each team member.

3. Be a good coach
One of the most important habits any leader can improve is their ability to coach the individuals on their team. Author and executive coach Michael Bungay Stanier says any leader can be a better coach just by “staying curious a little bit longer and rushing to advice-giving a little bit slower”. Positivity impacts your relationship with your people if you can coach them to improve a skill gap.

4. Put your phone away
No one likes to see someone else pick up their phone in the middle of a conversation. When this happens, it makes us feel much less important than whatever is happening on the phone. I can only write this because I am guilty as charged, and changing this habit is an ongoing challenge.

Trust is built between leader and team member by the actions and behaviour of the leader, not the other way around

5. Embrace the journey of each team member
It’s easy for leaders to get in the habit of assuming every professional on their team is in the same place in their life’s journey. Just because a 30-year-old and a 40-year-old might be doing the same job doesn’t mean they are in the same place on their journey. One could be single, while the other is married with kids. Those things absolutely matter. Get in the habit of putting yourself in the shoes of where your people are on their life’s walk.

6. Ask for feedback about yourself

The number one competency deficient area we have found in our Welder Leader assessment is asking for feedback from the team. This is so important because people want to feel like their opinion matters. The ability to be vulnerable in front of your team will instantly improve the relationship. One caveat: You must be humble when accepting feedback, rather than becoming defensive, or the act of asking for feedback will put your relationship at a deficit.

7. Model what you want to see
If you only remember one thing, remember this: People watch everything a leader does, whether the leader likes it or not. So the example you model is exactly the behaviour you will get from your team.

John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a full-service organisational health company whose mission is to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is a speaker, host of the Follow My Lead podcast, and author of F.M.L.: Standing Out & Being a Leader and the upcoming book The Welder Leader. For more, visit learnloft.com.