The Relationship Engine: A book review by Bob Morris

relationship-engineThe Relationship Engine: Connecting with the People Who Power Your Business
Ed Wallace
AMACOM (October 2016)

How to develop and then enrich “relational fluency”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou

The title of this book incorrectly suggests (or at least implies) that “connecting with the people who power your business” and your career can be achieved by a mechanical process or device. On the contrary, as the Angelou observation correctly suggests, it can only be achieved by intentionally putting another person’s goals and values at the forefront of each business relationship, initiating what Ed Wallace characterizes as “relationship leadership”: That is, “creating an exceptional experience for others. This principle is known as Worthy Intent and it allows Personal Leaders to create relationships that immunize them against all competitors both within and outside their organizations.”

Wallace identifies and examines five basic principles of Relational Leadership:

1. Display Worthy Intent
2. Care about people’s goals, passions, and struggles
3. Make every interaction matter
4. Value people before processes
5. Connect performance to a purpose

All are important and the extent to which a person develops relationship leadership will be determined by the extent to which someone develops all five.

The principles are based on values, not core competencies. By all accounts, executives such as Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Schilling were masters of skills that include situation analysis, negotiation, delegation, problem-solving, decision-making, strategic planning, and finance while leading Enron. It can perhaps be argued that they also connected performance to a purpose but that purpose proved to be unethical and illegal. Their “relational fluency” (Wallace’s term) was corrupt.

Where did they go wrong? They failed to follow most (if not all) of the “Five Steps to Transform Contacts into High-Performing Business Relationships” that Wallace discusses in his book’s Appendix:

1. Establish Common Ground: launch the relationship
2. Display Integrity and Trust: secure the relationship
3. Use Time Purposefully: invest in the relationship
4. Offer help: share relational equity
5. Ask for Help: realize returns on your investment

All organizations need effective leadership at all levels and in all areas. Ed Wallace is an advocate of relational leadership, what others characterize as servant leadership, others-first leadership, authentic leadership, etc. Whatever you call it, its success is achieved through the experience created for others. This is precisely what Lao-tse has in mind in Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know;
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

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