The Power of Relational LeadershipBy
Small-town traditions can restore valuable connections to bridge the gaps created by communicating in the digital age.
Growing up in the Midwest, I took for granted timeless social practices—shaking hands with new acquaintances, sharing a smile and a laugh with those around me, and preferring to have face-to-face discussions whenever possible. Though my small-town upbringing didn’t come with all the digital communication bells and whistles available today in large metropolitan areas, I was surrounded by hardworking, honest people who leaned on one thing: their relationships. Not having much in the way of financial well-being or the distractions of city amusements, rural folks naturally spend more time building relationships.
Generally, with our closest family and friends, we tend to communicate verbally since we live under the same roof or around the corner. In contrast, colleagues and coworkers receive various types of communication from us—texts, e-mail, even chat messages when we’re sitting just one office over. In our modern digital world, this convenience can lead us into the trap of relying on technology and focusing less on vital personal interactions.
“Digital communication is not so good for the sort of nuanced understanding and relationship-building you get when you are present with your acquaintances—for sharing intimacies, for sharing difficult news, for saying you are sorry, for really getting to know someone,” writes MIT professor and psychologist Sherry Turkle. “It gives us that sense of connection without the demands of intimacy and the responsibilities of intimacy.”
How does this affect finance professionals? The finance/accounting profession as a whole isn’t stereotypically known for its extroverted individuals, so the temptation to use this digital “crutch” may be even greater in our industry. Through the valuable lessons in my upbringing, however, I’ve been able to meet people of all types and successfully form meaningful relationships and business partnerships by choosing to walk down the hall to meet a person face to face.
If you are a manager, take the time to address any concerns with an in-person, sit-down meeting. It’s at these very moments that accountability happens because of the relationship. The people within an organization are the greatest asset, but because they aren’t on the balance sheet we may fail to make them our number-one priority. Whether you are fresh out of school or a seasoned finance veteran, to get to know your coworkers and various cross-functional business partners, shake hands and talk to them.
GETTING SET TO RESET
Relationship building is something all of us need to work on in some form or another. My challenge to you is to look at your current relationships and set goals for more personal communications. For example, if you only e-mail or text, make it your mission to conduct at least a few of those conversations by phone. If you do get on the phone, take that business relationship one step further and seek out coworkers or clients in their offices, either with a casual visit or via a scheduled appointment, if necessary. I can tell you from firsthand experience that a face-to-face relationship generates accountability much better than an e-mail that can often be hidden behind or even deleted.
I’ve had the privilege of spending much of my career working at or around manufacturing plant locations that have staffs from single digits or hundreds of people. Each facility has its cross-functional teams as well as its own small subculture within the overarching company culture. With all the competing goals and agendas of Operations, Accounting/Finance, Quality Assurance, and Safety, personal interaction plays a valuable role; everyone feels accountable to the members of the team to achieve objectives. For example, we conduct weekly meetings to discuss successes and failures. This foundation of a great group dynamic enables all key team members to truly understand the multiple professional viewpoints at the table. Change is a difficult thing to implement across any organization, but taking the time to leave your office, meet, and interact with key business partners is a strong start.
Though the interpersonal aspects of establishing a leadership role in relationship building within the workplace are important, the benefits of prioritizing people can be found elsewhere in the modern-day accounting profession as well. By maintaining a constant drive to network within the business, you stay connected to the pulse of the organization. This is key for anticipating any possible risks that may need appropriate accounting treatment. Maintaining close relationships with colleagues in other organizations, on leadership boards, and within professional associations also gives you a chance to benchmark the strengths and weaknesses that others are challenged with in their environments.
The speed at which the world moves creates a constant gravitational pull on us to become more and more efficient and to create shortcuts with technology in the interest of execution. Efficiency is great, but only to a point—we have to remember that the optimal functionality of our businesses, departments, and positions exists as a result of key relationships. So while it’s important to remain hardworking and efficient, we need to remember the person on the other side of the table or at the other end of the phone, e-mail, or text message. A strong leader—whether in direct management of a team or as a motivated team member who actively supports organizational goals—must take good communication that extra step further. By taking the time to meet with individuals on a regular basis, you can begin to strip the depersonalizing layers back and form the kinds of solid, accountable business relationships that can go the distance.
As we strive to develop as relational leaders, we begin creating more meaningful, personalized workplaces. This is a simple but integral life lesson ingrained in me from growing up in a small, rural farming community.
IMA LEADERSHIP ACADEMY
The IMA® Leadership Academy provides leadership opportunities for all members. From leadership assessment to leadership courses offered in person as well as through WebEx to participation opportunities in mentoring, be it reverse or traditional, the IMA Leadership Academy can help you meet your leadership goals and improve your leadership skills. For more information, please visit the Leadership Academy website at www.imanet.org/programs_events/ima_leadership_academy.