Skip to Content

How Business Leaders Create — and Maintain — Strong Professional Relationships

It’s an obvious truism — in business (as in life), relationships matter. But for senior business leaders is there a formula — or even research — behind creating and maintaining strong professional relationships?

Related Stories: 

Turns out, there is. As the Harvard Business Review outlined, professional relationships require resilience to attain long-term status. Here are some keys to success.

Be helpful and pleasant to colleagues to establish professional relationships.

Top Three Positive Approaches for Strong Professional Relationships 

The top three methods of cultivating and maintaining strong professional relationships seem obvious — the kinds of qualities one might expect from the classic “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” What’s confounding is how often those early childhood lessons are ignored, even by senior business leaders.

  • Be Trustworthy. One must present oneself as worthy of a professional relationship — and that means being a person with solutions, not problems. For business leaders, for example, one question may be: Does the senior leadership team need to adopt a different strategy for meetings? Leaders, of course, must model behavior: Never complain; instead propose a solution — different method, with a concise description of how the process would be improved.
  • Share. In this case, share credit for accomplishments and contributions. Whether it’s a CEO reporting to the board or a senior leader reporting to the CEO, even if that person had the initial idea from which a significant new product line emerged, many contributions along the way necessarily added to the success. Be generous — it builds credibility and, importantly, trust, which after all is central to any relationship.
  • Help. Strong leaders help those who come after them. Behaviors can include showing a new employee around — introducing her to the team. Or, to scale such solutions, develop and actively promote new hire training sessions. After all, employee development is central to a leader’s role — and building strong professional relationships down the org chart can be as powerful as building up.

It's an obvious truism -- in business (as in life), relationships matter. But for senior business leaders is there a formula -- or even research -- behind creating and maintaining strong professional relationships? 

Share credit for ideas and achievements.

Strong Professional Relationships: Minimize the Negative

Emphasize positive behavior, such as presenting solutions rather than problems. Even more, be careful never to engage in negative activities.

  • Never blame. Organizations can become cultures of blame, where it’s standard operating procedure to blame an individual, another department, or even clients. If that’s the firm’s culture, don’t fall for it — change it. Blame rots from the center, and can destroy not just professional relationships, but even entire companies.
  • Don’t blindside anyone. Outward, intentional blindsiding is rare, as the behavior is so reprehensible that it invariably reflects negatively on the person who does it. More common — and more difficult to protect against — is unintentional blindsiding. This frequently can be caused by failing to share information, and though unintentional, it sours relationships quickly. The key: Empathy. Continually evaluate situations from others’ points of view — and engage individuals appropriately.
  • Stay centered. Particularly in public, strong leaders don’t overreact to a disagreement or negative action. They also don’t burn bridges. A properly cultivated colleague will continue the relationship despite disagreements.

Bottom line: Creating and maintaining strong professional relationships isn’t rocket science. Sometimes it simply requires remembering lessons from kindergarten.