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ATD Blog

Relationship Building: A Core Element of Leadership Preparedness

Monday, November 27, 2023

For L&D professionals looking to transition into an organization development (OD) role or train, educate, and prepare workers for leadership positions, it is critical to understand the fundamental role that relationship building plays in leadership preparedness. Relationship building includes forming strong bonds with your clients and stakeholders and helping managers and staff members form stronger bonds among themselves. It’s a skill and practice that you must develop to be a good leader.

A core element of relationship building and human connection lies in the questions that leaders ask. After all, insightful questions that focus on the people element—leaders’ and staff members’ circumstances, fears, hopes, and resistances—go a long way in establishing a stronger sense of trust and shared accountability. Humanizing challenges rests on getting to know stakeholders personally and partnering together to make successful change happen.

Introducing Real-Time Informal Feedback

Gen Y millennials and Gen Z Zoomers are the most studied generational cohorts in world history, and we know that career and professional development tops their list in terms of priorities. Yet, many organizations reserve feedback for the annual review process, and leaders sometimes assume that recognition for a job well done may result in employees’ heads getting “too big” or their wanting a raise. As a result, little recognition or corrective feedback is shared in real time. An L&D initiative that could greatly affect organizational culture is educating senior and frontline operational leaders on how to engage in more consistent communication with team members surrounding goal setting and attainment, professional development, and job sculpting (that is, helping employees combine parts of their true passion and natural interests into stretch assignments that embellish their current roles).

The following questions serve as openers that help operational leaders at all levels provide appropriate real-time feedback to their team members:

  • Tell me more about your approach to developing this proposal for the client. What considerations went into this initially and as you developed your final recommendation?
  • I’ve looked at your recommendation for the client, and I have some additional thoughts that I’d like to share that may shed some light on a revision to your initial approach. OK if we sit down and discuss this together?
  • I reviewed the final project submission and recommendation that you emailed me. There may be a few areas where I can help add some value based on my past dealings with this client. Can we go through this together?

Such a transparent approach may likewise help you build a greater sense of trust with your team members as they build stronger bonds with their clients.


Moving to Formal, 90-Day Professional Development Windows

Helping leaders become stronger internal coaches and mentors is a bold culture change and OD initiative that pairs nicely with moving from annual to quarterly official feedback windows. Help leaders explain that the annual performance review cycle consists of quarterly feedback meetings that roll into the broader annual report or scorecard. This helps send a critical message to employees that communication and feedback are core organizational values. Further, by instructing employees that they are responsible for scheduling time with their managers and are likewise responsible for creating the meeting agenda, you treat adults like adults and challenge workers to quantify their contributions in terms of achievements and accomplishments. It changes workers’ mindsets from simply doing their jobs to making the organization a better place.

Offer questions for leaders to ask staff members during quarterly reviews:

  • What makes you stand out among your peers? How do you differentiate yourself from your internal peers, and how can I help you prepare for your next career move in terms of building your achievement profile?
  • What professional or career-related opportunities are you most excited about pursuing? How can we make one of your annual goals about or build your individual development plan around what’s most significant to you at this point in your career?
  • What opportunities do you see for greater organizational exposure or acquiring new technical skills, and how can I help?

Your goal throughout this OD initiative is to create and sustain a cultural and organizational impact that helps leaders become stronger communicators and helps staff members develop an achievement mindset. It humanizes the challenge by building on interpersonal connection. It permits leaders to share values, encourage others, and tell their story. It helps staff members appreciate the organization’s concern for their own professional and career development. Little goes further than making business challenges a shared experience.

To learn more about the intersection of relationship building and organization development, I direct you to ATD’s Organization Development Handbook, edited by Brian J. Flores, in which I devote an entire chapter to this topic.

About the Author

Paul Falcone is principal of Paul Falcone Workplace Leadership Consulting, LLC, specializing in management & leadership training, executive coaching, international keynote speaking, and HR advisory services. He is the former CHRO of Nickelodeon and has held senior-level HR positions with Paramount Pictures, Time Warner, and City of Hope. He has extensive experience in entertainment, healthcare/biotech, and financial services, including in international, nonprofit, and union environments.

Paul is the author of a number of bestselling HarperCollins Leadership, AMACOM, and SHRM Books, many of which have been ranked as #1 Amazon bestsellers in the categories of human resources management, labor & employment law, business mentoring & coaching, business conflict resolution and mediation, communication in management, business and organizational learning, and business decision-making and problem-solving. The five-book "Paul Falcone Workplace Leadership Series" was published in 2022 by HarperCollins and focuses on leadership best practices across the employee life cycle. His books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Turkish.

Paul is a certified executive coach through the Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching program, a long-term columnist for and HR Magazine, and an adjunct faculty member in UCLA Extension’s School of Business and Management. He is an accomplished keynote presenter, inhouse trainer, and webinar facilitator in the areas of talent and performance management, leadership development, and effective leadership communication.

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