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Advocates and derailers: Who’s in your corner?

female boxer sitting in the corner being briefed by coach

As you advance in your career, your success becomes more tied to the quality of your relationships, because leaders have to get things done with and through others. The key to moving ahead? Identify your most important relationships and improve the ones that are a little rocky.

First, ask yourself: Among key stakeholders in the company, who really impacts your ability to get results? Remember their influence may be through formal power that comes with their position or informal power as an opinion leader in your organization. Make a list of these individuals, putting them into one of three categories: high, moderate or low impact.

Next, consider their level of supportiveness toward you and your goals. Who is an advocate, who is neutral and who could be a derailer? Confirm your assessments with people you trust — especially individuals who can give you insight based on direct interaction. Once you have completed this exercise, identify who has a high impact on your results and who is either neutral or a potential derailer. If you identify several people, choose two or three to focus on first.

It’s important to understand that some of these individuals may have formed their perceptions about you through others, not through direct experiences with you. For example, a few months ago, one of my clients learned that a key executive wanted her out of the company, even though he had never worked with her. Through coaching, she turned his perception around by consistently demonstrating her value, building a strong leadership brand and developing stronger authentic relationships with his trusted advisors. That same executive is now a strong supporter, although the level of direct interaction with my client is still minimal.

Now, armed with your list of priority relationships, how do you make the rocky ones better? These three strategies are a good start:

  • Have the right mindset. The number-one thing you can do to improve a relationship is to start from a place of acceptance. I realize that can be tough when you dislike certain things about someone’s behavior or how she deals with you. If you expect her to show up as she always has, it will be less of a derailer in your conversation. Just contemplate what would happen if you approached her without expecting that anything will change, and with the assumption that she’s doing the best she can.
  • Find common ground. Take the time to consider what’s most important to the other person. Look for clues in how he invests his time, what he says and does. What overlaps with what is important to you? Even if you dislike each other personally, you can improve your interactions by emphasizing where you are aligned — whether it’s your passion for growing the business or interests you have outside of work.
  • Avoid triggers. Take a few minutes to consider the other person’s hot buttons. For example, if she gets defensive every time she hears "no” or other words that sound like resistance or disagreement, how can you rephrase your message? ("Yes, I understand, and let’s also consider …”)

I want to challenge you to identify at least one high-priority relationship and one step you will take to strengthen it.

Neena Newberry is president of Newberry Executive Solutions. A former Deloitte executive, she is an executive coach who helps women "think and play big."

Views expressed in blogs, posts and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and corporate partners.