Why Your Relationship is More Important than Your Role

Most mornings, I write out this bullet-pointed reminder:

I’m a steward of…

  1. Relationships
  2. Roles
  3. Resources

Sometimes I add ‘Responsibilities’ even though most of my responsibilities are wrapped in relationships, roles, and resources.

These three – Relationships, Roles, Resources – are written in this order on purpose.

Every decision I make will affect the relationships that I’m in. How I act and conduct my business at work affects my relationships with my wife, my kids, my colleagues, my customers, my vendors.

I’ve learned over time, that it is more important that I maintain perspective on the actual person I’m interacting with and affecting than it is the role I play in their lives.

When I’m tempted to assert my role or my position, i.e. ‘Because I’m your dad’. Or ‘Because I’m your supervisor’ (one that I’ve never actually asserted toward someone). Or ‘Because I’m the chairman of the fundraising committee’….. it’s an indication that I might not have done a good job building a relationship.

Your role isn’t a privilege. It’s a responsibility and a steward only insomuch as it allows you to positively influence an outcome for another person or organization.

The relationship is the important thing. The role is the tool to build the relationship.

Relationship Building vs. Role Assertion

Consider keeping ‘relationship-building’ vs. ‘role-assertion in mind whenever you feel like you’re not getting the results you want or you’re not seeing the results you want to see in the folks that you’re leading or working with.

Where you have ‘power’, are you asserting your role or are you building relationships with those who you’re working with?

Are you making sure they understand what their responsibilities are? Are you providing the resources they need? Are you responding with kindness and patience? Are you clear?

You’ll be able to pull rank a couple times, but pretty soon, there will be mutinies – emotional or otherwise – if you’re not proactively and humbly building relationships.

Do you care more about the outcome for the other person or organization or are you more concerned with the way the situation reflects on you?’

Why Prioritize Relationship-Building

Prioritizing relationship, in the end, allows you to steward your roles better.

If you focus on building your relationship with your children – in light of your role (as a mom or dad) – then you realize building your child up, helping him or her make good decisions, and slowly teaching them to do for themselves what you won’t be able to do for them forever, then you won’t have to resort (too often) to the ‘because I’m your mom / dad’ nuclear option.

Same thing at work… If you are clear on the goals of a project and genuinely check in with honest concern about how thing are going, then things move in the right direction without needing to reference your title even once.

Plus, in each instance, the person you’re in relationship with grows. And that’s the purpose. You’re helping others grow and achieve their goals and clarifying their visions.

How to Make Sure Relationships Are the Top Priority

Here are a few suggestions to help you prioritize relationship-building over role assertion.

  • Be clear on expectations: Make sure that everyone knows what is expected. Lack of clarity leads to confusion and butting heads. The best way to help others when you’re a leader is to give clarity.
  • Be honest: Learn to be truthful. Building trust by being honest about circumstances, statuses, failings, etc. will only serve to grow the relationship, even if it sacrifices your role. In the long run, it will work out.
  • Be humble: Whether at home or at work or in your civic service, be humble. Ask questions. Be curious.
  • Ask yourself: Am I lazily trying to be The Guy or The Gal or am I working hard to help other individuals or the organization accomplish a mission? Am i more worried about my position or my relationship? Good self-reflection always works!

In the end, relationships remain even when roles change. You’ll want to have built strong ones with the assistance of the role you play. You don’t want to use relationships to put yourself in a role.

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