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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

Avoid "Do It My Way" When Building Relationships (Part 2, Leadership for Entrepreneurs)

In the first part of this series, we explored how an entrepreneur’s vision is different from a leader’s vision. Entrepreneurs talk about the good or service they produce, while leaders connect excellent work by the members to a meaningful change for the customer.

This is how leaders bring out excellence in the group. Telling the story of vision in this way is critical to any organization bringing on new employees, whether an entrepreneurial venture or a larger, established organization. It just feels different, because it is a new way to talk about a topic.

The same is true of leadership relationships. You can read about the basics of the function of relationships here. For the entrepreneur bringing on new employees, here are a few things to consider.

Relationships are how people work together to produce the final product. Because entrepreneurs have generally done all of the work themselves, they have a hard time letting go of their preferred process and an even harder time observing the interpersonal actions between staff that have previously occurred in entirely one person.

The result is that entrepreneurs become frustrated and try to force their new hires to “do it my way.”

The consequence of this approach is that these organizations, at the most vulnerable yet potential-filled time in their lifecycle, miss out on the value that teamwork offers to any endeavor. Rather than finding new solutions that increase efficiency or quality, this approach limits creativity and minimizes the contribution and perspectives of the team’s members. This disconnects members from the story of vision and fails to bring out excellence.

Fortunately, there’s a way to fix this. When entrepreneurs transition their focus from “my way” to the group’s relationships, they can build upon the story of vision to create connections that encourage engagement and produce excellence. Here’s how for interchange and emotion relationships.

Interchange Relationships

Interchange relationships must provide the necessary interchange elements to support the performance and combination of individual tasks. If the members fail at a task, the first place to look is interchanges. Allowing flexibility and experimentation with interchanges will bring out the best solution for a given challenge, as long as the entrepreneur is both open to change and effective at guiding it towards productive ends. Attention without control, let’s call it.

Interchange relationships must be structured in effective ways. This structure affects the quality of the interchange and therefore limits the quality of work produced based on the interchange. This means establishing the content, formality, trigger, and giver/receiver. However these aspects of the relationship are formalized, the effect must be that the appropriate members of the group have a clear understanding of the relationship as measured by their performance. Like vison, building relationships is only as effective as they are actually practiced in the group.

Clear structure is the responsibility of the leader, and for many entrepreneurs, this form of documenting and formalizing is new and uncomfortable. While not every relationship needs a policy or procedure, each must have the appropriate degree of formal structure. This phenomenon explains why organizations often bring in experienced CEOs to replace founder-entrepreneurs at a certain point in the organization’s growth.

We do this when we ask the questions, "What do people need to do their jobs?" and "What characteristics do these transfers need to be effective?" For a thorough example of interchange relationships, check out the inventory example.

The SEEING EXERCISE Formalizing Relationships explores the structure of a relationship.

Emotion Relationships

Entrepreneurs must now be aware of feelings – emotion relationships. Like interchanges, emotion relationships, or the feelings that become expectations based on repeated interactions, create limits for the quality of work that members produce. The only feelings that most solo entrepreneurs are concerned with are their own, so this responsibility is a new one.

While leaders cannot make anyone behave in a certain way, leaders do influence the environment in which others select and perform behaviors. Performance counseling is a method to use formal organizational authority to influence members’ behaviors and the resulting emotion reactions, but there are several others that are less obvious.

As a newly forming organization, these companies are at a critical period in the formation of emotion relationships, and the general approach and specific behaviors of leaders model the way that members will interact. This makes the position of the founder critical to the learning process of members. If an entrepreneur models good behavior, the organization will follow – and vice versa. Founders set the tone.

For this tone to be productive, we must recognize and acknowledge feelings in the group. This means that we have to speak out when we observe behaviors both negative and positive. This is a form of reward or punishment. We must also be vocal about the importance of feelings in effective teamwork. For many founders, this focus on feelings makes us uncomfortable.

As exemplars of the organization’s desired interactions, we must also manage ourselves. This requires we observe our own actions and impact on others, and honestly recognize when our impact is negative. When we see the harm in our own actions, we must learn new behaviors to replace ineffective behaviors. This can be difficult because entrepreneurs are by nature strong-willed and driven, and the behaviors that we have practiced reflect this approach to the world. In our haste to accomplish excellence, we can be harsh, critical, aggressive, and demeaning. Just because a behavior is easy and familiar does not mean that it is effective. We need a process to learn behaviors to replace these practiced, comfortable approaches that produce undesirable results. We’ll talk about this in the third function.

The SEEING EXERCISE Naming Your Emotion allows us to acknowledge and understand our own reactions so that we can move forward and act in productive ways.

The Function of Relationships

Like vision, relationships are a function: members build relationships with or without leadership’s guiding influence. They try new ways to interact, keeping some behaviors and discarding others. When left to chance, these behaviors may not be the ones that are best for the group.

This is how that great big word, organizational culture, comes into being as the sum of all of the relationships within a group. If we want to change organizational culture, we change individual relationships. There is no way to act on culture as a whole.

As entrepreneurs, we can’t act on every interaction. Rather, we have to target the relationships that have the greatest impact. To do this, we have to see the two types of relationships in the performance of work within the group. When members are not getting what they need to perform and combine tasks, we look for missing interchanges. When interpersonal emotions affect the quality of work, we look to emotion relationships. In this way, we can shift the limits of what members of the group can accomplish towards excellence.

This is leadership. It’s a new way to create a revolutionary product or service, but it creates possibilities that are greater than we could accomplish alone.

The SEEING EXERCISE The Components of a Relationship breaks down an interaction into its pieces so we can determine where to act.

What's Next

Now that we have cultivated a shared story of vision and created productive relationships, our expanding organization is ready to explore new, more effective ways to perform work. This is when members become more than just cogs. The function of learning allows the group to find excellence that didn't exist before, if we allow it. But first, we have to practice our own learning.

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