Why your goal is NOT your first priority

Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

The relationship comes first (even in the toughest situations)

Unfortunately, I’ve done a lot of firing in my career. And if you’ve been at the helm of a company or team for any amount of time, I’m sure you can relate.

But how many people thanked you afterwards?

I’ll tell that story in a minute. But first: 

No, this is NOT a how-to article on terminating employees with grace (although it could be). Our topic today talks about—and my story shows—that even the toughest conversations can be navigated without trashing the relationship. 

Why does it matter?

Because as a leader, relationships are the currency of your influence and impact.

Therefore, in any work conversation (or life one, for that matter), tending the relationship becomes the primary objective. 

That doesn’t mean the goal of the conversation disappears. It just means that it becomes a sub bullet. 

Whether giving tough-to-swallow feedback, getting a wayward team member back on track, or even letting someone go—the content of the conversation remains the goal. 

Your primary focus, however, must become your relationship(s) with the parties involved.

This is all about getting people on board with you because they are invested in the relationship with you. Because they are loyal and committed to the work. Not because they’re afraid, they’ve been bullied, or they feel they have no say. 

To be clear, focusing on the relationship doesn’t mean you’re there to make them feel good or be best friends. It’s not even about giving them the option to negotiate your decision. (Remember, it’s not a democracy.) 

You are there to help your people feel seen and heard, even in the midst of disagreement or conflict. Even if it’s the worst possible conversation, like a termination:

I started my career in HR, so was involved in performance management, coaching, and—toughest of all—terminations and layoffs.

As such, I was responsible for taking the employee’s badge and walking them out on their last day. One employee, who we’ll call Kevin, turned to me as we exited the elevator. 

“Thank you. I’m really glad it was you that fired me.”

Stunned wordless, I listened as he continued. 

“I felt like you treated me like a human being.”

I’d attended and participated in each of Kevin’s performance management meetings, facilitating the difficult conversations with his manager. 

Every step of the way, I made it a point to hear him out, with kindness and respect, and without judgment—while holding our position that Kevin’s performance was not cutting it. He simply did not have the skill and drive the role required.

There was no making him feel better about the decision; he was losing a source of income and there was no softening that reality.

But by treating Kevin with respect, and giving him the space to be seen and heard—it honored our relationship.

And in the end, he was grateful.

You CAN have difficult conversations while allowing your people to feel respected and heard. 

This matters—and not just to prevent any bad blood from poisoning future potential interactions. (Like the old adage, you never know when the shoe might be on the other foot someday). 

Beyond that, how you treat one relationship impacts all the others. Especially in a leadership role, your reputation precedes you… and trails in your wake. 

Often, the mark of a great leader is that people speak of them with respect and admiration when they’re NOT in the room. How you treat your people—your relationships—determines this.

Because in your role, your PEOPLE are actually your deliverables, NOT whatever objective or goal or product you’re responsible for delivering. This is a big mindset shift—and one that is critical to your success as a leader. 

Focusing on the relationship versus the goal of the discussion, to increase your influence and impact, requires skills that few of us learn as we ascend the ladder. This is exactly what we help you do at MettaWorks in order to become the sought after leader we know you can be. To learn more, schedule a discovery call today.

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Rachel Rider
Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant

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