Part 4: Building Relations with Leaders and Building Your Role

In our last installment, we discussed how to build relationships with coworkers. In this installment, we will explore ideas on how to build relationships with management and how those relationships can help you facilitate an agreement on how to build a role within the organization.

Building Relationships with Leaders

Mary was the last of six children in her family. As the youngest she felt that her siblings knew more than she did and could do things she couldn’t. She learned that while older and more experienced they were susceptible to the vagaries of life, sometimes did stupid things, and occasionally needed human compassion and communication. With this imprinted early on she grew up aware of other more worldly and talented people who experienced similar situations and needed the same considerations.

Knowing this Mary also made it a point to regularly visit the senior management of her new organization. Not as regularly as she visited her peers mind you. But regularly enough to always have a handle on what tasks managers were working on, and what they were thinking and worrying about. One senior manager even asked Mary to routinize her visits. He called them their skip-level meetings since their discussions skipped a level (actually, three) of organizational hierarchy. How did Mary build these relationships with senior executives? First, she knew from watching her older siblings that leaders often feel isolated and under great pressure, so instead of approaching the organization’s management with awe, she approached them with a sense of empathy for their isolation and concerns. Mary worked hard to find common ground with everyone she met, including the organization’s higher powers. Once the relationships had a common ground to build on, Mary asked questions about the priorities and preferences of her organization’s leaders. This helped her prioritize work while learning how executives and leaders think AND act. Not just in theory, but a practical understanding. When Mary was speaking with the organization’s leaders, she was focused on discussing things for which she had a full set of facts and she never sought to gain privilege based upon her growing relationships.

“Building relationships with Senior Management in this way is a journey, not a destination.

Building relationships with Senior Management in this way is a journey, not a destination. But a point of departure is needed for the journey. A perfect way to take the first step is to agree upon your organizational role with your immediate manager – this should be in writing and signed by both parties. Once a long form agreement about the organization role is codified in writing, it is time to create a compelling, verbal, one-to-two minute version of the role that can be articulated at a moment’s notice. AKA – an “elevator speech.” Elevator speeches should be just long enough to say on the average elevator ride and interesting enough to catch the attention of the executive who happens to be on the elevator. Once you communicate your role and see how its impacts the organization’s objectives, a shared organizational context with senior organizational leaders will unfold.

To build your shared understanding of your organizational role, have a clear understanding of how to make the greatest contributions toward the organization’s goals with your skill sets. To build this understanding you need to know:

  • What are the organization’s objectives?
  • What your role is in accomplishing those objectives.
  • How success defines the objectives.
  • How is the success measured?
  • What budget and resources will be allocated?
  • How much personal involvement from bosses and/or others will be present?
  • What tangible responsibilities do others have that you are dependent upon?
  • Who else knows about the role? Who else can support the role?
  • What are the behavioral goals for the role?
  • What are the mechanisms for feedback?

Once these items are known your actions in the organizational context and discussion topics with senior management should become self-evident. If your impact on the company’s goals are not obvious, work with your immediate supervisor for clarity. Refine and practice your elevator speech. Make sure that it is focused and to the point. In this installment we discussed how to build relationships with management and how those relationships can help facilitate an agreement on how to build your role within the organization. In our next installment we will explore how to work with your organization’s senior management.

This blog post is part of a series of installments on Career Transition:

  1. Part 1: Getting Established in a New Organization or Role
  2. Part 2: How Does the Organization Work?
  3. Part 3: Building Relations with Co-workers