Behind our Contact Lists

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Have you ever been asked to share your networks or turn over your professional relationships?  Does the mere mention cause you to feel defensive, evasive or even angry?  Perhaps the world can be divided into those who understand the importance and fragility of relationships and those who are focused only on leveraging them.

The chasm between these two groups can feel both vast and threatening, especially for those of us who view relationships as the very foundation of our success.  We do all that we can to sustain and nurture them, even in situations that are well beyond our control.

But when we are directed to give up our relationships, by leaders who fail to appreciate their value, it can feel like a direct blow to our own contributions and worth.

When faced with these situations, perhaps when ending a position or preparing for leave, we might be tempted to find comfort in the innevitable outcome.  For we know that relationships are strong and immutable only when built on a foundation of respect and understanding, allowing us to reap their benefits even in the face of changing contexts and expectations.   But without the history and attention to nourish them, their outputs will be short-lived, quickly withering and eventually drying up altogether.

So mercurial in nature, relationships can make or break one’s success depending on their willingness and ability to tend to their associated needs. Understanding the history, context, and varying perspectives involved in relationships is critical for a leader to build the necessary support and capacity, regardless of  specific mission or strategic plan.

By distancing themselves from relationships- or dismissing them altogether- leaders can easily succumb to the dangers of hubris, falsely believing that their success is all but guaranteed.   Rather than building on the efforts of those before them they inadvertently step on toes, ruffle feathers, and devalue those whom they need most.  These mistakes can prove quite costly, setting them up for failure and collateral damage along the way.

 As keepers of relationships we must resist taking any comfort in our leaders’ inevitable failure, since we stand to benefit more from their ultimate success. When our institutions and organizations thrive and meet their strategic goals our communities and our own families stand to benefit in important ways.   

Clearly, we all deserve to be valued for our relationships and the work that goes into cultivating and sustaining them. But ultimately, we have the power to transition our connections in a manner that transcends our specific roles and emotional needs.   

 Being able to frame our own work and contributions within broader institutional constructs- not just during times of transition, but also in times of weakened leadership- will help to ensure our own success and stability.  This higher notion of stewardship will in turn benefit our organizations and the relationships that are formed, setting an example for those with whom we work…. and even those we work for.

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About mbhuber2013

convener and co-founder of BTEP, instructor for Tanzania Study Abroad course; Associate Dean for Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning at University at Buffalo

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