Who’s Got Your Back? 5 ways to find out

One of the hardest things for brilliant, technically proficient folks to realize is that as they assume more and more leadership responsibility they must depend on the help of others.  And each of these “others” is an individual who needs to be seen, heard and understood.

One of the strategies you can use to map out all of the important relationships present in your work environment is to create a relationship map.  To get started, take a large piece of paper, find a white board (though you want to be sure to keep this work private) or use mind-mapping software.

Begin by identifying your “prime objective.”  What exactly are you trying to accomplish?  What is the goal?  (You may have several, so do a map for each objective.)

Now, draw a space for each person who might be affected by what you are doing.  Include senior leaders, colleagues in your industry, peers in other departments, direct reports, functional reports, and dotted line team leads—anyone who might matter.  Don’t worry about going overboard—you can always scale back—but you might be surprised at what you find when you get the big picture perspective.

Ask yourself some key questions

Once you have exhausted all of the possibilities, think about each person in turn and identify the following:

  • What are their main goals/objectives?  How will it serve them for to you succeed?  Fail?
  • What do you need from them?  How can they help you?  Hurt you?
  • What is their style?  How will you need to communicate with them to influence them?  Are they visual, kinesthetic, auditory?  Do they like a lot of detail or do they want the executive summary?
  • What regard do they have for you?  Do they like, respect, trust you?
  • How do you feel about them?  Do you harbor judgments about this person that they might be picking up on? What assumptions might you be making about them that you haven’t checked out?

Next, create a mini-action plan around each person.  What are some of the things you can do to build relationships and better understand the people who are crucial to your success?

Action plans can include spending time together, going to the person to ask for advice, or pick up the phone simply to get their opinion about something.  You can also plan to go to lunch, drop by cubicles that are not on your regular path, or include key people in relevant emails.

If there are some past misunderstandings, and you are comfortable with addressing it, you can even consider going to lunch with others to “name it and claim it.”

Your action plan should also pay attention to how people use language.  It allows you to understand better what is important to others, what they focus on, how they think, and how they approach things.

Take the time

Thinking things through in this much detail requires a great deal of discipline, but the kind of discoveries you can make by thinking things through with this kind of specificity are rich and useful.  Even though no one likes to think of himself or herself as a political animal, I have yet to meet a leader who can afford to be politically naïve about work relationships.

Many have been sabotaged by the move from the left that they never saw coming.  Taking the time to map relationships and understand how these may or may not be serving your aims allows you to maximize your potential and the potential of others.

About the author:

This is one in a series of LeaderChat articles on the topic of executive development by Madeleine Homan Blanchard, co-founder of Blanchard Certified, For more of her insights , visit the Blanchard Certified blog or via Twitter @BlanchardCert

7 thoughts on “Who’s Got Your Back? 5 ways to find out

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  7. Dear Madelein
    Somehow I missed your article (Who’s Got Your Back?…)for so many years and have just read it. It is brief but phenomenal. Now that I dont have work colleagues, I am going to apply the learning to my outsourced collaborators and familial relationships – my wife, children, siblings, cousins, domestic help. I’m now more mindful about the fact that I depend on them for my success, but have not thought about my relationship with them as deeply and systematically as I should have. Thank you for highlighting the importance of this activity.
    Bakhtiar Khawaja

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