Being smart doesn’t matter if you can’t relate to people

Understanding people should be a priority in your culture

Agility was an important way for Grace to learn new “technical” skills (it was NOT easy getting her to walk between that series of poles!), but the confidence-building was even more crucial to her success. Dogs who can’t relate to others can be dangerous in society, and that holds true for the people in your organizations, too. Organizations need to insist on a culture where all co-workers understand the importance of relationships to the success of their business outcomes.

“I realize that you could have all the ‘book-smarts’ in the world, and it won’t matter a bit if you can’t relate to people.”

Those were wise words spoken by a MBA student I met last night at a regional meeting of NHBSR. Becky said that she’s learning this lesson from a mentor in her program, who has shown her the importance of working well with others.

I couldn’t agree more with Becky. And I know she’s not referring to the rah-rah, you-are-a-nice-person-so-I’ll-always-be-nice-to-you type of relationship. Trying to be nice at the wrong time will get you into trouble, I have proof of that!

Becky and I are talking about the ability of a leader to evaluate the needs and motives of all involved, which provides an accurate assessment of the situation. Armed with that knowledge, the leader then moves with clarity and directness, not mincing words, but all the while showing respect for others she works with, to orchestrate outcomes that everyone buys into.

I responded to this savvy student by telling her that many people never figure out what she has put her finger on, so kudos to her for recognizing it so early in her career. She told me that she has already been in organizations where management was not providing adequate emphasis on the importance of working well together, and she could see how it was detrimental to the culture.

A similar theme was echoed this past Saturday when I worked with a very inspiring, and smart, group of administrative professionals on the topic of building respectful relationships. The Tri-Chapter members of IAAP told me that the big take-away from the workshop was that building relationships takes work but can be done if you strive to understand the other person’s needs and perspective.

It doesn’t mean you have to agree or have the same perspective. In fact, having a different one will open up avenues for creative ideas and initiatives. But you do have to deal with those differences constructively. Creating awareness is the first step in accomplishing these magical relationships.

Technical expertise and knowledge is critical for success in any organization. But it can’t be the only strength brought to the table by an employee. Each person must also know how to relate to another co-worker. You might be saying, “but some people work independently and there isn’t the same priority in those cases.” I disagree. Every piece of work we do is for some “next step” or “next person.” For example, an IT software developer may sit at her desk 90% of the day writing code. But if she isn’t listening and cooperating with those that are responsible for designing, marketing, selling, and [last but definitely not least, the customer] using the product, she will introduce obstacles and issues that delay or destroy the quality of the product.

I see it happen in all industries, at all levels. Even those individuals who have the most impressive technical skills can create devastating havoc in organizational processes.

Too often in today’s corporate hectic pace, companies expect individuals to inherently possess these people-skills. It is assumed that we can get along, that we can motivate, that working together well just happens. But it doesn’t just happen. It takes a commitment to provide the necessary training and tools. And even folks that you can accurately describe as a “people-person” need support. If the culture allows and perpetuates bad behavior, even skilled individuals will lose the battle of building relationships. Everyone must be on board.

If you are reading this, I’m probably singing to the choir. You already understand the importance. So I ask you to spread the word. Get others in your organizations involved. Let them know it matters to you and reinforce the importance to the overall business.

Here’s an easy way to move the effort forward. Bring along a co-worker and join me for an interactive and reflective workshop where we focus on leadership styles and why they matter. It’s so much fun to get to know yourself better — and to put the knowledge to good use immediately. An investment in a few hours will bring benefits that last a lifetime.

Together, let’s create more organizations where we can capitalize on the ‘book-smarts’ because we also have ‘people-smarts!’

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  1. Judy Ringer on February 7, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Thanks, Robin, for this post. So true. We are more than our technology, and true leaders know this.

    • Robin on February 7, 2013 at 3:25 pm

      Thanks, Judy, for adding your thoughts. I like the way you phrased that very much.

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