The day before I started my new job, my soon to be old boss called me into his office. Without knowing exactly how he felt about me leaving his team to take my own leadership role, I was a little hesitant, to say the least.  

It didn't take more than a few minutes before we were chopping it up about fond memories and all of the achievements we had accomplished together. It was as if this is exactly what a leader-follower relationship was supposed to be when it was time for the follower to make the leap.  

Being the great boss that he was, he didn't just let the moment slip by without seizing the moment to offer up a simple piece of advice: "No matter what, don't forget leadership all comes down to the quality of your one-on-one relationships."

I shook my head like I understood and even thanked him for offering such an elementary piece of advice. As I got up to walk out of his office, I remember thinking to myself. "Of all the things he has taught me, he left me with that?" Sure he was a good leader and I had other good bosses in my career, but the things I thought of were much more complex like; go to market strategy, timely decision making, and being an excellent communicator. "Just don't forget it, and you will do great," he said as I turned and walked out of his office for the last time.  

I took the new job the next day and since then years have passed. I have seen him a few times and even reached out for advice when things were particularly hard. Without question of all my personal experience and advice from great mentors over the years, there has been nothing become more evident and true than those words "don't forget, leadership all comes down to the quality of your one-on-one relationships."  

There are literally hundreds of things a leader of a team or business is responsible for and if you miss on any of them at a particular time it will hurt performance. This is what makes leading other people so difficult. But when it boils down to it, leadership is a human relationship thing. It will never be outsourced by a computer or Artificial Intelligence. People follow people and to do that it requires a level of trust and belief that doesn't come from a casual handshake or just saying hello at the beginning of the day. It requires deep and real relationships built on the foundation that you truly care about the other person and their long term success and well being.

Here is the kicker, many leaders believe they have strong relationships with their people but when push comes to shove the quality of that relationship is average at best.  If you want to improve the relationship with your direct reports it comes down to one simple four letter word. Time. Your willingness to carve valuable time out of your schedule and spend it with team members is the only way create a real bond that shows your people you care about them through actions and not just words.  

Whether you are a leader with an extremely busy calendar or one who tends to keep your schedule more free and flexible, here are two ways to improve the quality of your relationships at work:

Share Your Competence 

One of the best ways to improve a relationship at work is to share your knowledge and experience with others in order to help them improve their performance. It's important this doesn't come off like you are a know it all or that you don't need help but rather that you are sharing insight with them based on where each individual team members is on their journey.  

Show You Care

If sharing your competence with others is 1A on the list for building professional relationships, showing you care about your team as individuals is 1B. It becomes so much easier to build a solid relationship with someone when you know they care about you in their heart and that they are going to act in a manner that helps you get better.  

This doesn't mean you are a pushover or you aren't willing to push people to levels they have never been before, it just means your team knows you are pushing them because you care about them.

Regardless of your style, the important thing to remember is "leadership all comes down to the quality of your one-on-one relationships." If you get this right your chances of leadership success drastically improve.

Published on: Mar 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.