By Owen Mavengere
RELATIONAL acumen was defined as “art of developing relationships” (Churchley, Neufeld, Purvey, 2013). It is the ability to develop, maintain and adapt relationships and stakeholder networks to ensure facilitation of required action; the delivery of relevant feedback and the development of relational trust (SAICA CF2021).
Relational acumen is getting prominence in the development of leadership in business. As one migrates into the C-suite or executive level this art of developing relations becomes critical.
I posit that the reason for this is that the more technical work is carried out by fellow team members and the leader’s role focuses on long-term vision, opening doors and building.
The business leader now focuses on “opening doors”, which I would like to take to mean creating opportunities for the flourishing of team members while at the same time chasing the organisation or department or section’s objectives. The phrase “opening doors” has inspired leadership development programmes.
The first time I heard this phrase was many years ago. A client was facing serious difficulties and could not manage their relationship with us as a supplier.
The relationship was not as smooth as business relations should be, often resulting in disruptions on the part of the client whenever the supplier was unhappy, often costing them millions in revenue, and of course the supplier would at the same time be losing out on income during that period of hostility. The relationship was tumultuous to say the least. A high level executive flew into the country and walked into my office, demanding a meeting. I called in my colleagues and we sat down.
While his exact words may be difficult to recall and I hope I will do justice to the quote, he said: “I have a simple role, which is to simply open the door to your office and ensure that there is a civil discussion between our teams”. That turned out to be what was required to iron out the teething issues and since then there was a mutually beneficial relationship between the two parties.
Interestingly, apart from the welcome and closing remarks, the other team leader and I did not say or need to say anything during the meeting as the teams came up with solutions to the problems.
Building professional relationships
Continuing from the summarised story above, a leader must be constantly looking for bottlenecks and go out there to engage with fellow business leaders and obtain solutions, partnerships or synergies to go round the challenges. This is a source of significant growth even when there are no specific challenges that can be pointed out. Of course, this is not a substitute for ensuring that internal efficiencies are at their peak. As a business leader or even a team leader one must be constantly looking for opportunities to build strategic relationships.
These relations must not be limited to one’s line of business but across various sectors, thus allowing for creating a rich and vibrant contact list. This can be looked at both externally and internally, depending on the level a leader finds themselves in. Relations can be built with fellow colleagues in an organisation particularly in different departments. As one goes higher up the chain they need to engage with fellow business leaders and even policymakers to exchange notes or help influence the creation of a conducive business environment.
Fortunately, there are groups for industry players that exist and actively participating in these is most likely the quickest route to achieving the required level of engagement with fellow leaders. These bodies will help augment efforts already put in to build relations.
Managing the team
Relations are not only meant to be built with the external parties, but with the team members. A leader remains responsible for their team’s output and results.
In order to achieve the overall objectives, likely with many individuals with diverse backgrounds a leader needs to be able to pull the various resources together and have them drive in one direction.
Just like all aspects I have touched on throughout this article, I could write a book on managing a team and still not exhaust the topic, but I will highlight trustworthiness and effective communication as key requirements.
The team needs to know that they have a dependable leader of high integrity and unquestionable ethics. This will assist to bring out the positive in the team members.
Communication in the team is important as any voids will be filled by what I have observed to be almost always, false rumours. Communicating will also include providing clear expectations and concise feedback, which can further develop an individual. However, it is important to note that the exact expectations of what a good leader is usually rests in the mind of every individual and these will almost always differ so one needs to always be cognisant of that.A leader must develop a strong team and this will include having relations with their team members and ensure that there exists an environment that allows the team members to work in a highly productive manner. Sadly, conflict is almost inevitable, especially as the size of the team grows. A leader needs to learn the art of managing the conflict.
This aspect cannot be overemphasised. It could be during engagements with the board, staff, fellow business leaders, policy makers and so on.
A leader must be able to effectively convey their message to the audience. Given the wide spectrum of stakeholders one finds themselves engaging with, it is important to select the appropriate means and tools for communicating.
There are various aspects one needs to be aware of for example, cultural or legal requirements for the relevant communication being made and it is imperative to acquaint oneself with these to avoid potentially catastrophic errors and miscommunication.
Deriving value from relationships
In conclusion, the relations and networks that are built should serve the leader and their team or organisation. This can be through sourcing opportunities, new business, discounts, concessions and so on, which should ultimately be seen through tangible output for the team or cash flows for an organisation.
The impact on business is deliberately summarised into just cash flow because any benefit that accrues, such as improved sales or cost saving and so on should see the cash flow of the organisation improve.
Having said the above, it is important to be constantly wary of merely utilising one’s contacts and relationships versus corrupt and unethical dealings.
Ethics continue to be an important aspect that must be considered when ultimately engaging with all the various stakeholders that a leader has built relations with. One must remember to protect their stakeholders and public interest as they engage.
Mavengere is the technical manager at the Icaz, which is the largest and longest standing PAO in Zimbabwe, having been established on January 11, 1918, and is a body corporate incorporated under the Chartered Accountants Act (Chapter 27:02). Icaz provides leadership on the development, promotion and improvement of the accountancy profession focusing in the areas of accounting education, assurance, good governance practices and leadership and organisational excellence. — email@example.com or Twitter: @OwenMavengere.