What Managers Need to Know About Fixing Broken Work Relationships

BY C. Lee Smith
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At work, you’re either people-​focused or task-​focused. A focus on tasks may land you a management position. To succeed from there, you’ll need to pay more attention to people, especially those who work on your team. With the right mindset, you can develop your people-​focused and connecting skills to improve your organizational culture. Michelle Tillis Lederman, an expert at creating the kind of connector culture that spells success for everyone on your team, told us how the process works in a recent Manage Smarter podcast.

Successful Connectors

People often have trouble distinguishing networking from connecting in the workplace. As a successful connector, you don’t have to overshare details of your personal life. And you don’t have to be best friends with co-​workers. Instead, devote your energy to helping your team members get better at what they do. Find out where they see themselves professionally and help them get there.

Elements of Trust

Part of being a successful connector is developing trust-​based relationships. That trust starts with you. As a manager, learn to trust your judgement and the decisions you make. Once you trust yourself, you’ve learned to be in control as a manager. That aspect will be far more effective than believing that you’re helpless and unable to change anything in the organization. As you work with your team members, show them your vulnerability, credibility, transparency and consistency.

Demonstrating Commitment

One of the best ways to demonstrate your credibility and transparency is to admit when you’ve made a mistake. If you’ve promised someone a good assignment and then give it to another staff member, you’ve broken trust. You set up expectations and then you trashed them. Your credibility is at risk.

Or maybe you’re not being completely transparent about why you want one of your staff members to attend a cross-​department meeting regularly. You tell your staff member you want to develop them professionally. But you’re also hoping to get some departmental dirt. That hidden agenda will be very obvious to your team member when you start asking the wrong questions.

Either way, as a leader, you’re not perfect. When you stumble in the trust department, it’s on you to repair the damage you’ve done. Sure, you have to admit you messed up. But that’s not enough. 

Back in the day, many of us learned to ask the person we offended how we could fix our mistake. We made it their responsibility to name their price. In the workplace, assigning this responsibility makes the power dynamics between a manager and team member even more awkward, Lederman points out.

After you own your screw-​up, tell your employee what you’ve learned from your mistake and how you intend to make it up to them. Those actions speak to your vulnerability and authenticity as a manager. At that point, you’re on your way to becoming a people-​focused leader.