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There’s a reason they call it the human resources department and not the employment office.

A company and its managers rise or fall based on the ability to develop solid relationships. Indeed, a study by the CCL found that relationship and people skills, and not merely job performance, are what separates a successful executive from the rest.

In corporate terms, good relationships are gold. And there’s a demand for people who can build them.

Relationship-building is considered the strongest trait an effective leader will have, says Jean Leslie, a researcher with CCL. In describing or evaluating unsuccessful managers, experts find that their inability to develop and maintain relationships is listed as their biggest weakness and the biggest hindrance to a company.

The evidence emphasizing the importance of relationship skills is overwhelming. In one CCL study, researchers looked at data from more than 400,000 people in 7,500 companies, including many Fortune 500 companies. Nearly 70 percent of the bosses reported that relationship skills are critical for leadership success. The other key elements include leadership, resourcefulness, being decisive and being able to manage change. Couple those skills with an honest, straightforward approach, and the picture of the successful executive is complete.

Another, longer, research project looked at turnover involving 115 chief executive officers, operating officers and senior-level managers or board members. The survey found that having solid relationships was critical in building a successful, stable career.

Without solid relationships, a leader can have a hard time bringing a team together and getting a project accomplished. Collaboration is only an effective workplace tool if the people collaborating can get along. Throughout 2007, CCL gathered data on current and future business trends based on interviews with 247 senior executives worldwide. More than 97 percent said leaders in their organizations had to be able to collaborate.

The almost-unanimous opinion means that collaboration skills should be part of the repertoire successful managers build, says Corey Criswell, a study manager at CCL.

Collaboration – and the relationships it builds – will help executives who are trying to adapt their management style to a changing global marketplace. Indeed, CCL’s Changing Nature of Leadership Study found that corporate relationships will become only more complex in the future. The skill set they must have is a diverse one, says CCL researcher Michael Campbell. It’s also what was once referred to as the “soft skills” of the workplace.

Companies must find a way to move relationship skills from an intangible spectrum of employee and executive assessment to one that’s higher on their requirement list. However, researchers are finding that those “soft” skills are what leads to actual influence in the office – and not just a title that implies influence. Those relationship strengths are what inspire employees to follow an executive and do whatever it takes to get the job done. Having that background is the only way a leader can be effectively decisive and resourceful.

As Campbell puts it, in terms of success at the corporate ranks, those soft skills are actually pretty hard.

CCL’s Benchmarks leadership assessment tool was used to compile much of the data regarding leadership and the role relationships play in a company.

It revealed that several of the most important leadership skills were not executives’ strongest suits. Only 47 percent said their executives were good at collaborating. Based on that number, it isn’t surprising that the ability to build and maintain relationships ranked 10th out of 16 in a listing of things surveyed executives did well.

Those gaps need to be filled. A company’s human resources work effectively only when supported by a network of solid, reliable relationships.

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