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This 1 Thing Is the Key to Leadership Success

The leadership landscape is as challenging now as ever. Business is done at light-speed, on a global scale, in the face of digital disruption that multiplies exponentially year after year. Leaders across industries need to continuously push for stronger performance and adaptability to keep pace. It's acutely Darwinian -- the enterprise either grows or it dies. That's why a tough-minded approach, that is hyper-focused on conjuring superior results, is required at the helm of today's organizations.

But while the climate in which business is conducted has changed radically, the leadership challenge remains largely the same: how do we, in a principled and passionate way, derive the best results possible from other people? How do we ensure our workforce adapts quickly to the changes of the modern age and performs to an ever-higher standard?  The toughest and most results-oriented leaders are increasingly discovering that the answer lies in building relationships. Effective leadership is all about the people. After all -- leadership, distilled to its essence, is the pursuit of more productive interactions. Leaders who find the best ways to communicate, moment to moment, are finding that those moments will translate tangibly to enduring, high performance relationships in the marketplace.

What's troubling is that cultivating these sustainable high-performance relationships is often mislabeled as a "soft skill.” But there's nothing soft about it.The ability to build meaningful relationships is among the most important competencies for the tough-minded leader of the modern age. In fact, in leadership today the “soft” stuff is the hard stuff. No leader can survive by emphasizing one set of skills or the other. “Hard” and “soft” skills increasingly overlap, requiring leaders to hone their craft in a more nuanced way. 

The best, and the fiercest leaders, find a way to be resolute and exacting on standards while being caring with the people involved. In today's world, you can't be one or the other if you hope to be effective in an enduring way. You must be both. Leaders who prevail know this unalienable truth: it is unrealistic to expect extraordinary effort and performance without creating an environment in which people feel extraordinarily valued. When you value people, treat them with honor, and earn their trust, they in turn honor the high standards you uphold -- and they work hard to meet or exceed them. 

So, if you're watching performance falter, relationships are the first thing you should look at. Are your performance standards clear? Are you making people feel undoubtedly valued? Are you working hard enough to build the relationships that will sustain your business and make profits soar? If not, you are, or will soon be, in trouble. In my experience, people need to know you care about them first, before they you can expect them to care meaningfully about the success of the organization. Here are three things you can do right away to make it clear you are people-oriented and hell-bent on building relationships that drive better outcomes:

Publicly declare your intention to value your people.

Authentically thank people for their contributions.

Treat people with respect and influence them with honor.

Founder, Conant Leadership; Former CEO, Campbell Soup Company; Chairman, KELI; Chairman, CECP; Former Chairman, Avon