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Honest-yet-Kind Leadership — an Oxymoron?

You may have heard the saying, "People don’t care what you know unless they know that you care." I’ve experienced that truth with people at work and elsewhere in my life. It implies that we must invest some interest and concern in people if we want to influence them.
And let’s face it — managers of global or strategic accounts simply have to be influential in their work. They not only advocate solutions to customers, but must garner support internally on behalf of those customers.
Wielding influence works similarly in our personal lives and careers –it’s all about building relationships, one at a time. People relate to you as you show interest in and spend time with them. They come to know, trust, and want to converse with you, and there lies your chance for influence.

But there is a secret to building trust and better relationships — it’s having good conversations. Relationships are built (or damaged) one conversation at a time. Just consider how dialogue can be assessed in three important ways:

1. Do you care about me (or my work/business)?
2. Are you being straight or real with me? 
3. Is this conversation helpful, appropriate, or relevant? (Especially pertinent in business) 

Conversations that build relationships require each of these attributes. Trying to inform or instruct people without caring about them (also listening, empathizing, etc.) comes off as lecturing. Even the hard yet needed truth, when given in a way reflecting little concern for our feelings, can be brutal, and damaging to the relationship.

At the other extreme, leaders can be sensitive to the point of not telling people the necessary truths. Avoiding important advice or sugar-coating the truth so much that it isn’t heard isn’t helpful. And of course dialogue should be timely and relevant. Customer calls, for example, should offer mutual benefits; not that every conversation has to be deep, as small talk has its place, too.

I was surprised to learn that the saying about people knowing you care, before they will care what you know, came from Theodore Roosevelt. Teddy, according to his biographers, was not a sensitive guy by nature. But he became a shrewd and effective leader, proving that building relationships can be learned. Not coincidentally, TR was by all accounts, a brilliant conversationalist.

You could try one of many good biogaphies on Theodore Roosevelt; but I especially wanted to note a couple of highly regarded books about effective conversations now on my reading list — Fierce Conversations and Crucial Conversations.

About the Author

Jeff Marr

Jeff Marr

Marr provides thought leadership to Walker and the customer strategy profession. In keeping with the newest proven approaches, Marr designs services used in client engagements. This includes facilitating customer-driven action by clients at the corporate, functional and account team levels, and creating new measurement solutions. Formal approaches Jeff helped create and launch include value mapping, account engagement, strategic assessment, won/lost bid assessment, and assessing lost/diminished customers.

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