Leadership and Management
February 26, 2024

Using Relationships to Exercise Leadership


Brianna Elefant

There’s a popular idea that leadership is something you do alone. But in my experience, it’s just not true.

Sure, I learned how to be a leader in sales by developing my own skills. But just as crucial was cultivating a support system. Once that network is in place, it’s easier to be an effective leader.

For more than fifteen years, I’ve built large sales and marketing orgs at numerous startups and public organizations. My current company Voray is a networking company; we facilitate small, invite-only dinners for executives. The purpose is to help people develop meaningful relationships. So I’m obviously a believer in the power of relationships.

Here are my top tips for using relationships to strengthen your leadership:

1) Develop your resource library, including people, tech stacks, and other tools.

I started my sales career working in Tel Aviv. I loved working with people across cultures while was there. After a few years in Israel, I asked my supervisors to let me run the  New York City sales office. They agreed to give me a three-month trial, which was my first time in a manager position.

This was a fantastic opportunity, but when I arrived in New York I really didn’t know enough about what it meant to be an effective leader. I probably didn’t fully grow into an effective leader for another ten years and I’m still evolving.

I made it through those tumultuous years by building a support network. This was very effective in helping me to move through my career. Maybe I didn’t always know the answers myself, but I had people who could offer guidance and advice. A network doesn’t just have to be people, either. Finding the tech stacks and other resources I could turn to for problem-solving was very helpful.

When you’re starting out, that network can act as a cheat sheet for you. Over time, you learn so much that it becomes more instinctual and you don’t need as much support. But to get to that point, you need to start building your network today. Don’t wait for permission.

2) Make sure that you can trust the team working under you and make changes if necessary.

To lead effectively, you need a team you can trust. New managers shouldn’t shy away from shaking things up when necessary. If someone isn’t helping the team, let them go.At the same time, it’s important to understand your role on the team. This can vary from moment to moment. Once, I was promoted, and inherited a team I can only describe as misfits. The team had about ten people, and they were not the people I would have hired. My manager told me that I had to understand my role. I’d been handed a mess and my job was to clean it up. That changed the framework I was using to think everything through.

To lead effectively, you need to understand the goals of the team and what your role is as a manager.

3) Use feedback from others to develop your management techniques.

I just completed a 360-degree evaluation. Initially I wasn’t excited about this, but now I highly recommend it. The evaluation incorporated feedback from people who report to me, people I report to, and people at past companies. It gave me so many insights about my leadership style and skills and what I can do better. Some of the findings were actually quite helpful and surprising to me.Self-awareness is critical for leadership. It’s helpful to proactively ask for feedback. Make it part of your day-to-day routine.

4) Communicate key information up and down the chain of command so that everyone is fully informed.

Effective communication is key for leadership. I’ve learned that managing up is just as important as managing down. It’s your responsibility as a leader to act as a conduit for information for everyone in your chain of command. Every time I send a report to my own supervisors, I send that same information onto my team.When providing feedback to your team, be consistent with it and offer your feedback in real time. Sometimes, if I’m giving someone the same piece of feedback for the second time, I’ll ask them to get a notepad and write it down. Sometimes I’ll give them a little homework assignment that prompts them to reflect on the feedback. Being a leader is about managing relationships effectively. If you can do that, you can lead.