Are you better at building relationships with employees or overseeing their work? Most people tend to be better at one or the other. But the best managers make sure to cover both areas: they relate well to their employees but also set strong requirements for performance, according to Peter E. Friedes in his book The 2R Manager.

One thing is for sure: Operating at either extreme is a recipe for failure. Here's a look at "relating" vs. "requiring" and how you can improve both skills.

To the Extreme: Relating vs. Requiring

As a CEO, I used to work with two executives who personified the negative sides of relating vs. requiring. One was a people person who knew his employees very well on a personal level. He believed happy employees would get the work done, and his people enjoyed working for him.

However, he paid no attention to project details. As a result, his department started having performance issues. Disconnected from what was happening, he couldn't fix any problems or help employees improve their skills.

The other executive was a big-picture person. He believed that if he set the right strategy, his people would deliver results without any assistance. He did not develop relationships with anyone on his team or help them in any way. This was basically like having a vacant leadership position.

Balancing Between Relating and Requiring

Clearly, striking a balance between becoming too chummy with your subordinates and taking a hands-off approach is important. You can improve your skills in both areas by understanding where you fall on the spectrum. There are several resources for this, including a test in Friedes' book for direct reports to rate their managers.

The Gallup Q12 employee engagement assessment has questions that address both relational and work matters. For example, on a scale of 1 to 5, employees rate statements such as: "My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person," "I know what is expected of me at work," and "In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work."

Consider having your team take the survey, and pay special attention to their responses to these questions. Do they reveal that you're weak in either relating or requiring?

Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is critical to balancing people and results. According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence is "the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others." Managers who have a measure of emotional intelligence know what their employees need to achieve their best, whether that's a word of understanding, constructive criticism, or giving someone space to cool off.

However, most people overestimate their skills in this area, according to Joshua Feast, CEO of Cogito, which makes software that helps improve the emotional intelligence of customer service professionals.

"If you ask a crowd of people, 'How good do you think you are in recognizing social signals in others?' almost everyone will rate themselves a 4 or 5 out of 5," he said. "However, it's very much a bell curve. Some people are good. Some are bad. Others are middle-of-the-road, but they don't know it because they don't get feedback."

The key is to be humble about your capabilities and seek out that feedback. Feast also recommends addressing people's moods and behaviors.

"You get incredible relational benefit from gently recognizing and saying something when a person appears to not feel well or is stressed," he said. "If I say to you, 'You seem tired,' you may reply, 'I'm not tired, I'm just frustrated by X, Y, and Z.' However, you still think I'm in tune even though I got it wrong. By the mere fact of me paying attention and trying to be empathetic, I still get credit for being aware even if I get the specifics a little bit wrong."

When you start asking for feedback on your relational vs. requirement skills, don't be surprised if your employees perceive you to be strong in one area and weak in another. Cultivating a good balance is possible, but it takes time and practice.

Published on: Feb 22, 2018