How to Build Strong Executive Relationships 

by | Jul 10, 2024 | Executive Coaching

Great leadership teams are more than the sum of their parts. This is because they work seamlessly as a unit. Senior executives trust each other. They generally get along, but they also have the tools and emotional intelligence to work through differences. Underpinning this are individual executive relationships. 

Leadership teams will fail when executives are misaligned, in conflict with or estranged from each other. In fact, Deloitte research identified relationship-building as perhaps the most important trait for executives transitioning into a new role.

The good news is that you don’t have to wait to start a new job to build better stronger executive relationships. And you absolutely do not need to wait for conflict. Read on to learn about building executive relationships for better professional and personal outcomes.

8 Traits of Positive Executive Relationships

One of the biggest differences between C-suite relationships and personal relationships is that business leaders need to deliver on shared executive and organizational goals. They don’t need to be best friends, but they do need to figure out how to work together and support each other as they pursue measurable outcomes.

With that in mind, here are some key traits of strong executive relationships:

  • Mutual Respect: This is basically human decency — acknowledging the other person as an equal, respecting their intelligence and contributions, and treating them fairly and honestly. From these humble beginnings, trust becomes possible.
  • Effective Communication: Open and honest communication is crucial. Executives with strong relationships don’t withhold information or talk behind each other’s backs, and they don’t condone that behavior, either. They make time for difficult conversations, listen deeply, ask probing questions, and give each other space to consider what has been said.
  • Commitment to Shared Goals: When you’re on the CEO’s leadership team, you share a purpose and a mission. Use this to align on strategic objectives, even if you’re struggling to find much else in common. 
  • Support and Collaboration: Support each other publicly and privately. When you disagree, work together to find a better way forward. Support also extends to committing your function’s resources to shared challenges.
  • Conflict Resolution: Emotionally intelligent executives understand that conflict is part of life. They address conflict directly and constructively. When well-intentioned mistakes occur, they give each other mulligans. These executives focus on ‌shared organizational goals rather than personal agendas.
  • Personal Connection and Empathy: One sign of a deepening executive relationship is when leaders bond over personal connections, such as hobbies, family or shared experiences. They develop empathy for each other’s pressures and challenges.
  • Consistency and Reliability: Executives in positive relationships are consistent in their actions and reliable in their commitments. This predictability builds trust and helps everyone act with confidence in their own work.
  • Recognition and Appreciation: Everyone wants to be recognized. By shouting out peer success, executives show that they are team players, invested in their colleagues and appreciative of their efforts.

5 Ways Executives Can Build Stronger Relationships

Relationships take time to build. If you don’t care about the other person enough to give them time and attention, to try to understand them, you won’t make much progress. But when you put the effort in — and have the right tools, frameworks and guidance — anything is possible. 

Here are some tips for building executive relationships that you can practice individually or with the help of an experienced executive coach.

Align on Shared Goals and Objectives

Leadership team coaches can help leadership teams develop a shared strategy and purpose. From there, private coaching can help senior executives align with each other, especially when they oversee functions with different operating styles or philosophies. 

Get Intentional About Time Together

This isn’t just about being in meetings together. Make time with your fellow leadership team members to have real conversations, both about work and other topics. 

Shared activities can be a powerful way for executives to get to know each other better in low-stakes situations. I know executives who go for long bike rides. If you’re into golf, go golfing. Or simply go for a walk together. Whatever it is, get away from the work, be together as humans and just see what happens.

Use Assessments to Foster Collaboration

Assessments like DiSC and StrengthsFinder (now called CliftonStrengths) can help two executives explore their strengths and see not only where they overlap, but where they have different but complementary strengths. 

When executives realize they each bring particular talents to the table, they’re naturally inclined to collaborate more. Each person helps the other do more together than apart. And this furthers business goals because the executives see each other as key stakeholders, where mutual support will help both of them win for themselves and for the business.

Improve How You Handle Conflict

When executives have conflict with each other, thinking straight can be difficult, especially in the moment. So improve your preparation. Executive coaches can help executives identify the root causes of conflict, which can also help prevent conflict, not just resolve it after the fact.

When executives understand conflict triggers— personality differences, stressors, organizational or functional challenges — they can be intentional about their communication and mitigation strategies with each other. Instead of conflict, collaboration happens.

Be Willing to Forgive

We all make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes hurt the person we’re in relationship with. Sometimes, we’re the injured party. A powerful way coaching can help executives is by showing them the possibilities of forgiveness. 

Forgiveness becomes easier when both parties have built trust and cultivated the relationship, as Bright Arrow executive coach Cheryl Scofield explains. “The ticket to the dance, so to speak, is to treat each other with respect, courtesy, the common things that we would want from people, “ she says. “But going beyond that, it’s truly liking the other person, being willing to help and being willing to forgive and have some compassion when things go upside down.”

Don’t Wait for Conflict to Build Executive Relationships

Leadership team members have a powerful responsibility to the CEO, the organization and, especially, each other. Their relationships affect everyone on their teams, and when senior leaders model collaboration, trust and understanding, they give permission to everyone else to do the same.

But these executive relationships won’t solidify by themselves. Be intentional about ties with fellow senior leaders. When conflict inevitably arises, you’ll be ready to manage it positively and productively. And throughout, you’ll be contributing — together— to better business outcomes for the entire team.

Learn more about Bright Arrow Coaching’s executive coaching solutions and how they help top executives develop a CEO mindset and unlock their top potential.

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