3 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships and Grow Your Influence

Handshake

Last week, there was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education written by two seasoned college presidents. In the article, both presidents highlighted the critical role of relationships, which reminded me of this previous post on the importance of relationships. For presidents, relationships are crucial to being an influencer.

The president is often seen as the most influential person on a campus. However, we all have influence. Whether we have positional power or are trying to influence someone in a higher position. All members of the campus community can be influencers.

Some people we can influence through relationship are donors, supervisors, and peers.

How do we improve our ability to influence through relationships?

1. Our presence. Our ability to influence is affected by how others perceive us. How do others see you? What qualities do others admire about you? These qualities may not be the same characteristics that we see as our strengths. For example, you may believe that others most admire you for your expertise and experience, but they may actually love your sense of humor the most!

2. Service. When we think about donors, we may focus on what they can provide us. But when we ask what we can give them, we may be surprised that we have a lot more to offer – opportunities to reconnect with faculty and alumni, recognition at campus events, or networking opportunities. When we serve others, we are proactively building our relationship with them.

3. Shared interests. One of my favorite quotes is “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” When we impose our influence through rules and positional power, we take away other people’s dignity. When people share an interest, the shared solutions can be greater than one person’s alone.

7 Blind Men and An Elephant

elephant

Working in a large public institution has given me the opportunity to observe several leadership styles. Given the segregated nature of the functions of the institution, it is not surprising that many leaders have adapted their leadership style to ensure the survival of their department. At times, this can be frustrating because in my experience it creates seemingly unnecessary conflict.

I was recently reminded of the story of seven blind men and an elephant. In the story, each man is feeling a different part of the elephant. The one touching the tail thinks it is a rope. The one at the leg thinks it is a tree trunk. They start to fight about it. Whether or not the conflict between the men and their perspectives was resolved depends on which version of the story you believe. The lesson I take away is that we all think we know how it is but in reality we only see a piece of the whole.

I like this story because each of the men was right. In my own work life, I have recently started trying to identify the elephant. How can it be that we are viewing the same issue from opposing positions? What could the issue look like from your side of the elephant? And how can I best describe my side in a way that helps us both get a better idea of what the elephant really is?

In some cases, this has required assembling an elephant that doesn’t yet exist. In creating collaborative programs within the institution, different departments bring their components or values. Sometimes they are open to integrating these components and often they want their components to be the whole elephant.

I have recently encouraged the students I work with to see how they could combine their seemingly different perspectives to create a greater outcome. This is especially challenging because the temptation is to recreate our existing structures – silo-ed departments, specialized colleges, two-party systems. Everywhere we look we can find examples of people holding on to their piece of the elephant.