The Business Leader's Guide To
Building Effective Relationships

By T. Nick Fenger, Ph.D,
© Copyright 2007
He Helps Repeal Murphy’s Law™

Individual right to copy is granted on the condition that the original copyright appears on the first page of the copy of this article. Group rights to copy this material granted upon written permission only. All other rights reserved.


  •  How to Eliminate Mistakes
  •  What are Effective Relationships
  •  Creating the Vision for Effective Relationships
  •  What it Does it Take to Build Effective Relationships
  •  Questions to Ask Yourself

In over twenty-five years talking with successful and want-to-be successful business owners, executives, and managers, one perception stands out: there are many more want- to-be-leaders than leaders. Indeed, there are more people who think they’re real leaders than are real leaders. Just look at yourself. How many decisions have you made where your recommendations have been tried with little real commitment, given lip-service, or just plain ignored? Yes, the person did something but what they did wasn’t what you had in mind. Surprise! Making decisions and telling people what to do is not the model of functional leadership today.

“You mean paying people to do the job isn’t enough?” Hardly. OK, what is real leadership? How many books have you read that tackled that question? Some of the common answers include:

• Share the vision
• Gather the resources
• Divide the responsibilities
• Check on progress
• Celebrate success
• Say thanks

Look at those answers carefully. They all assume that someone else is involved in what the leader is doing. That’s why building rewarding relationships is THE KEY to top leadership. However, it’s HOW you build those relationships that achieves the rewards people seek. Do you start out being a successful leader on your first try? Maybe. But top leaders know that they have to continually improve their skills because leadership is a process, not a plaque or a statue.

How do leaders improve their skills? By assessing their success; listening to their people, working with successful leaders and those who want to be leaders; recognizing that leadership is different in every different situation; consulting with leaders who have studied people; and learning the fundamentals of how to build relationships and leadership skills. You didn’t do all these things on your first job and anyone who works for you won’t be able to do them all immediately either. You start where you are and try, try again.

What skills do you need to be a reliable and accurate employee? Yes, it takes more knowledge than standing on the right foot, punching the right key, or solving equations, or quoting some expert, or showing up to work on time. It takes more than a degree or even a Ph.D. It takes courage, self confidence, and the knowledge that you are not successful unless the people around you are successful.

When you picked up your first bat or kicked your first ball did you get a hit or score a goal on your first try? Really? How much help did your first coach give you? Enough? My first tennis coach said it would take 250 thousand tries to get a reliable and accurate serve. I’ve had six coaches and years of trying on my way to that kind of serve. Meanwhile, I’ve managed under people who couldn’t communicate a clear idea. I’ve worked for people who asked me how to do their job, and I’ve worked for people who knew they needed someone to ask them the right questions to find a reliable path to business success.

That’s where the leader coach comes in: working with the leader who wants to improve and knows that practice, discussion, analysis, and feedback about relationships and business skill building are important elements in becoming the TOP leader. Leadership takes people to explore new ideas (places) which they prefer to avoid but which they welcome because you point to new benefits. TOP leadership is achieved when the people know you are with them rather than just sending them out on their own.

Almost every person I talk with believes that Murphy’s Law will always be with us, even the Bob, Jack, and Mike Murphys I regularly meet. In a sense they’re right. Forgetting and laziness will always be around. Mistakes will always be made. But when you question them further, very few people understand that, with focus and effort, the underlying factors that lead to mistakes can be mitigated to the point where mistakes in many cases can be eliminated.

However, please do not fall into the trap of believing that mitigating mistakes is the main basis for creating effective relationships. Yes, mistakes interfere with effectiveness between people. But mistakes can also be a means to improving your relationship. If they are inevitable, they can’t be forgotten. If they are inevitable, they need not be feared. If they are inevitable, we must all be Boy Scouts, and BE PREPARED to work to eliminate them. Look to yourself first. Eliminate your mistakes and learn how to coach others to eliminate theirs. Build trust that builds effective relationships and new benefits.


Mistakes are eliminated by building skills, all the skills that are required to get the necessary results. That means building ALL the skills, not just the ones we want to or think we have time for. It is in our failure to build all the skills that Murphy finds the opportunity to take advantage of ignorance, forgetfulness, and fatigue to create mistakes. How do we build ALL the skills? We build the skill of communication to better understand and process information. We build the skill of coaching to better assist employees to amplify their skills. We build the skill of allowing the natural motivation of employees to express itself. We build the skill of solving problems together to better utilize all the available knowledge to attack the problem. We build the skill of responding to change to save time and use fewer resources to allow those resources to be used to build more skills. In short we build the skill of creating relationships that are effective in building more skills. Focus on skills. Skills build success. Success builds trust. Trust builds effective relationships. Effective relationships eliminate mistakes and create new benefits.


Effective relationships work for both people in the relationship. Many writers mention that effective relationships are “50-50.” That supposedly means that each person contributes an equal amount of effort and each gets the same amount of good results. Common sense lets us know that it is impossible to maintain that level ratio in every exchange of a relationship. Sometimes a lot of giving has to be done, and other times a lot of receiving needs to be accomplished.

But giving and receiving are the basis of effective relationships. Some people value themselves solely on their ability to give their time, focus, and emotional desires to a relationship. Just as some managers value their ability to demand the kind of work they want and how they “trick” their employees into giving it to them. Some people give irrespective of what they receive. And some of those people continue to do so for their entire lives to almost everyone they have a relationship with. Yes, some employees will trade their individuality for a job that allows them to retire with a pension and never bother to question anything that may be amiss. Others often believe that they give and give and only get back a salary. However, giving tirelessly has come to be recognized as an unhealthy status if challenge and growth never become a part of the employee’s income. Contemporary employee relations recognize that if money is the only income accruing to the employee, a relationship may continue as long as the money is the most important need in the employee’s life but when money is not the sole reason for working, people may leave to find more valuable rewards.

I have met many managers who believe that giving above average salaries is enough. “The employee has a job to do and they came to work knowing what they would receive. Why mess with that?” But is money the only glue that makes people want to work and encourages them to learn more and increase their productivity? Well, is improvement important? It is if the job gets more complex, or the employee somehow has not been able to master the basic responsibilities of his job. But will money alone lead to real improvement? Not today. Why not focus on the person instead of the money?

It is the person who does the job not the money. Why not focus on the person as being more important than the job or the money? You may still ask: “Why bother with the person emphasis? Salaries and job descriptions are simpler than understanding the person part of the job. A salary or bonus can be decided and implemented. End of problem.” Yes, people are complicated to the point that it’s hard to understand them and few managers ever believe that they really know their employees. Some employees admit they don’t really understand themselves. Isn’t knowing all the personal aspects of someone’s character a lot of work and maybe even impossible?

Yes, possibly. But the employee-manager relationship is not a marriage which includes love (the glue that allows mistakes and failures to be acceptable in a relationship). Love is counter productive at work. The employee-manager relationship at work is defined by the basic skills the employee possesses and the trust the manager has that those basic skills will be employed to achieve business results. Skills can be defined and evaluated. The manager defines the results. The employee uses their skills to achieve those results. The manager and the employee together estimate that the employee’s skills are adequate to do the job. That’s what happens when an employee is hired. Results tied to mutual trust in basic skills equals effective business relationships.

Building the trust that skills are equal to the results needed is the mutual task that is called supervision. The supervisor and the employee look at the results their relationship achieves. But remember it is not the immediate results that are the only results the employer and employee need to look at. The job is changing and so the skills must change. And the trust must change and grow as well. As the trust builds, the employer should be willing to assign more responsibility to the employee and as their skills build, the employee should want and be willing to exercise more and different responsibility. The increase in trust and the increased responsibility determines the effectiveness of the relationship. Building skills builds trust which builds effectiveness. A salary by itself doesn’t build skills or effective relationships.

The job of the employee and manager is to build the skills of both: the employee builds the skills to get the immediate and future job done, while the manager builds the skills that help and allow the employee to build the skills that gets today’s and tomorrow’s job done. At the same time the employee helps the manager improve their management skills by giving the manager feedback and information to help the manager assess the employee’s skills and the effectiveness of the relationship that exists between them. Increased communication builds trust. Increased trust builds better communication and better problem solving. Better problem solving builds better skills, and so on. Or at least it should. If the skill building does not go on, something is wrong in the skills or the trust. Both the employee and the manager need to share the responsibility for the skills and the trust, rather than have one blame the other for the lack of success. Lack of insight into the impediments to building skills and relationships requires growth on both the employee’s and the manager’s part. Blaming one or the other achieves little or no growth and may end in the employee leaving or stagnating. Effective relationships explore new ideas, places, and skills, and realize new benefits.


Employee skills (not in order of importance for any particular job):

• Clerical or technical skills to address the day to day job requirements
• The skill of achieving expected results within the time, manpower, and capital
resources available
• Problem solving skills to resolve differences in timing, results, etc
• Self evaluation skills to understand the difference between goals and
• Communication skills to pass information and understanding in speaking and
writing to coworkers and management and so build effective teams
• Self control skills that manage change and the stress that may accompany change
• The ability to understand when necessary trust does not exist between the employee and coworkers and/or management, and to take steps to build it
• The ability to ask questions to clarify differences and check the understanding and learning of coworkers and management
• The ability to define where necessary skills need to be developed to more
adequately achieve results or accept the responsibility of assuming more challenging results and the building of trust

Manager Skills (not in order of importance for any particular job):

• The ability to ask questions to clarify differences and check the capabilities and ability to learn of direct reports, coworkers, and other management
• The ability to coach direct reports in their development of the skills necessary to achieve results and build skills for the future assumption of responsibility
• Communication skills to pass information and understanding in speaking and writing to coworkers and management and so build effective teams
• Problem solving skills to resolve differences in timing, results, etc
• Self evaluation skills to understand the difference between goals and achievement
• Self control skills that manage change and the stress that may accompany change
• The ability to understand when necessary trust does not exist between the manager, direct reports, coworkers and/or management, and to take steps to build it
• The ability to define where necessary skills need to be developed to more adequately achieve results and/or accept the responsibility of assuming more challenging results and the building of trust
• The ability to create action plans that direct activities of the manager, direct reports, and coworkers
• The ability to understand the threats that may interfere with the achievement of results and plan actions to overcome those threats.

Note that the skills of both employees and managers are very similar. By building the skills of employees, the manager develops the skills of those employees who may replace the manager in case of absence or promotion. It is the common recognition of these similarities that builds effective relationships, and concurrently builds the skills for effective advancement and succession planning. Expecting the same skills of the manager and the employee assists in the building of trust as the two come to see things similarly which, in turn, helps to eliminate the differences in experience, expectations, and practices that destroy effective relationships. Both must talk about these ideas, examine them, and practice them.

The vision: Shared skills plus trust build effective relationships yielding results.


The simple answer to this question is: Repeal Murphy’s law! Pay attention to the mistakes, find out why they happen, communicate, encourage questioning and initiative, problem solve, communicate some more, and challenge employees to build these skills through your coaching. Following this process will build trusting relationships, and the mistakes will decrease (disappear). Effective relationships explore new ideas and new skills and realize new benefits.

That’s why this book will be helpful. This book outlines the skills necessary to cover the management and interpersonal issues that you will meet on your way to realizing new benefits at the top. Dedicate yourself to mastering them and the technical skills of your product and production processes. Your dedication will result in increased skills and your ability to coach and lead.


• Do I pay attention to mistakes and learn from them?
• Do I understand the relationship between building skills and interpersonal trust?
• Do I see how trust is necessary to create effective relationships?
• What is necessary to help the development of my skills build interpersonal trust?
• Why is trust necessary to create an effective relationship?
• Why are effective relationships necessary for business results?
• What are the skills necessary to eliminate mistakes I have made?
• If I eliminate my mistakes how will that help others?
• Have I experienced how an increase in my skills improved my relationships with others? What did I learn from that experience?
• Is good problem solving a real skill that needs to be improved or is it something I just do because I’ve always done it?
• How must I communicate with others to develop trust?
• Do I really trust my boss?
• Does he really trust me?
• Do I have the skills that allow him to trust me to do my job well?
• Does he have the skills that allow me to trust him to do his job well?
• Are there any relationships within my company that need improving?
• Can they be improved?
• What do I need to do to improve them?
• Do I have the skills that are necessary to assume my boss’ job?
• If I don’t, what skills do I need to improve to be able to assume his job?

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