Chief Executive Insights

Watch Out for Interpersonal Blind Spots: What Relationally Intelligent CEOs and their Employees Need and What They Must Avoid

Dr. Adam C. Bandelli

When it comes building strong interpersonal relationships at work, it’s important to remember that relationships are a two-way street. There are roles that employers must play and roles that employees must play. As employers, CEOs and senior executives need to put people and culture first. They must be intentional about the time they spend with their team members to invest in their growth and development. And they need to create inclusive cultures where all employees feel valued and appreciated. Inclusion is about more than just filling diversity quotas. I often use this analogy when consulting to CEOs, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Equity is being asked to dance at the party. But inclusion is being asked to help plan the party.” When senior leaders create inclusive work environments, employees thrive, leading to greater creativity and innovation. 

But what are the roles employees need to play in building interpersonal relationships? To develop trust, there must be relational reciprocity. The best way for both senior executives and their people to commit to making relationships work is by learning and practicing the five essential skills of relational intelligence. Relational intelligence is the ability to connect with people and build strong, long-lasting relationships based on trust and mutual accountability. It is at the heart of effective leadership for all successful CEOs and their senior teams. But beyond the c-suite, it’s critical at all levels of an organization, down to frontline individual contributors. 

The Five Essential Skills of Relational Intelligence

  1. Establishing Rapport – This skill is the ability to create an initial positive connection with another person. In business, this plays out in recruitment, hiring, and onboarding. It also impacts the early stages of team formation and alignment. Key areas to focus on include making a good first impression, drawing others into a conversation, finding common ground, and using humor to lighten the mood. 
  2. Understanding Others – This skill is the ability to be intentional about putting in the time and effort needed to get to know people on a deep level. This involves the use of one’s EQ, having strong active listening skills, demonstrating curiosity and inquisitiveness, and being empathetic to others. Great relationships are formed organically over time. CEOs need to understand this, but their employees need to do so as well. 
  3. Embracing Individual Differences – This skill is the ability to acknowledge and accept the differences of people. The goal should be to create inclusive work environments where everyone, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, age sexual orientation, religious or spiritual beliefs, or cross-cultural factors, are valued and appreciated. Embracing individual differences is about actively pursuing diversity of thought as well as focusing on authenticity. 
  4. Developing Trust – This skill is the ability to be vulnerable, risking being exposed to the actions and behaviors of others. It is the most important skill of relational intelligence. With it, relationships thrive. Without it, relationships crash and burn. Some of the underlying aspects of trust include competence, commitment, consistency, character, and integrity. 
  5. Cultivating Influence – This is the ability to have a positive impact on the lives of others. This is the most powerful skill of relational intelligence. Influence is not about manipulation, control, or top-down authority. It’s the heart of servant leadership. Dynamic, life-changing relationships happen when employers help their people develop and grow. But there are roles that employees need to play as well. They need to take ownership for their work and seek out opportunities to take on greater responsibility. 

 

Relational reciprocity is critical when it comes to practicing the five skills of relational intelligence. But what are the relational pitfalls and blind spots? What do people — from the c-suite down to the frontlines — need to avoid?

Six Relational Intelligence Derailers

  1. Poor Management of Emotions – When leaders, or their employees, cannot manage their emotions they destroy relationships quickly. We have all seen that one colleague lose their cool in a meeting, totally damaging the trust on a team. 
  2. Lack of Authenticity – Disingenuous or self-serving employees cannot build long-term sustainable relationships. The Machiavellian or narcissistic leader may be successful when they attempt to accomplish short-term goals, but that never turns out well for them in the long run.
  3. Damaging Trust – Trust takes time to develop. It requires effort whether you’re a CEO or just starting your first job. When people lose trust in you, relationships end quickly. You must consistently make deposits into the “bank account of trust.” A major withdrawal will break the bank. 
  4. Lack of Self-Awareness – If leaders or their employees don’t have self-awareness, they will not be able to determine the impact they have on others. You must know what makes you tick and how you’re wired. If you don’t, you cannot connect with people and form solid relationships. 
  5. Lack of Social Awareness – If leaders cannot read a room, they are certain to fail. You need to pick up on subtle nuances when communicating with colleagues. You must be able to process social cues in-the-moment. If you cannot understand others, you cannot build strong partnerships with them.
  6. Unconscious Biases – Stereotypes, however subtle, exist and some level of prejudice is inevitable. We may not consciously display them, but they surface eventually. Those who struggle to build strong relationships often have trouble thinking beyond their own culture and tend to operate with closed mindsets. 

Relationships are at the center of every successful organization. It doesn’t matter if you work for a Fortune 100 company or a small business. Learn and practice relational intelligence. Avoid the relational derailers and blind spots. We don’t do business with companies. We do business with people. And business is always human.


Written by Dr. Adam C. Bandelli, Founder & Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates and author of RELATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: THE FIVE ESSENTIAL SKILLS YOU NEED TO BUILD LIFE-CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS.
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Dr. Adam C. Bandelli
Dr. Adam C. Bandelli is the Managing Director of Bandelli & Associates, a boutique consulting firm focusing on leadership advisory services and organizational effectiveness. He is the author of the book Relational Intelligence: The Five Essential Skills You Need to Build Life-Changing Relationships, which will be available everywhere books are sold in May.


Adam C. Bandelli is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on LinkedIn.