A leadership title is appealing and infatuating until the person in the role experiences a challenge that supersedes his or her current knowledge, skills and abilities. It is during these times that leaders capitalize on the relationships they have established to achieve a suitable resolution. Some of these preestablished relationships are built on years of friendship outside of their professional career, while others have been formed in the midst of everyday business operations.

Friendships between leaders and their constituents have always been a questionable activity in business. While some leaders are able to leverage those relationships as a powerful networking tool, others have allowed them to create toxic cultures. This insight presents an opportunity for learning and development (L&D) professionals to build leadership training programs that drive healthy relationship outcomes.

During my tenure as a director of organizational development for a large specialty retailer, I worked with leaders who had grown up within the company. They began their careers as part-time sales associates, but their drive, dedication and brand loyalty landed them a supervisory role with people management responsibility. These managers often spoke about the challenge of managing a former peer. While they embraced the esteem, luxury and benefits of leadership, they found it difficult to provide constructive feedback to direct reports whom they described as friends because of their extracurricular activities outside of work. In some cases, the lines between personal and professional behavior became so blurred that they eventually bled into the workplace, resulting in performance management issues. This trend demonstrated the need for training and development opportunities comprised of foundational leadership principles, coaching and personal branding.

Using Foundational Leadership Principles to Establish Expectations

If homegrown leaders at other organizations were being honest, they would likely admit to similar challenges. Having a list of foundational leadership principles could make all the difference in their success. These concrete principles should serve as pillars that align with an organization’s mission, vision and core values.

Some organizations use recruitment assessment data to screen a candidate’s naturally alignment with core values, leadership ability and relationship-building capacity. This process typically eliminates a candidate who may possess telling contrary behaviors; however, the onboarding process for these organizations may not leverage this level of sophistication. Training leaders to operate under established universal principles can help them establish personal boundaries in their professional relationships.

The Role of Coaching in Establishing Boundaries

We’ve all witnessed failed attempts at establishing professional boundaries because of an inability to provide timely, candid feedback. Whether geared toward a direct report, a peer or a senior leader, many of us are apprehensive when delivering feedback for a variety of reasons. Herein lies another opportunity for L&D professionals. One tool that can help is a feedback model known as SBI. When used with emotional intelligence (EQ), this model is non-threatening and works for any audience. When leaders are given the proper coaching and communication tools to use in everyday business situations, they can easily set boundaries, even for the people who are close to them.

Valuing Personal Branding in Personal Relationships

In modern business, personal relationships, once a strategy for advancing within a company, are not as important as someone’s character and reputation. Companies can no longer afford to “give away” leadership roles; such opportunities are reserved for individuals who behave like leaders and who are culture champions within and beyond the walls of the organization. As a result, many organizations are now offering personal branding courses, as they hone in on the leadership and relationship value of an individual’s personal brand. Personal branding is also now a key consideration in leadership succession.

Given the increase in literature focused on relationship currency, L&D professionals play a pivotal role in how workplace relationships are built, nurtured and sustained. We serve as strategic partners because of our ability to leverage leadership development content to cultivate our workplace culture. Although we are not responsible for the sole outcome of leadership performance, we can create opportunities that give our leaders the chance to be vulnerable enough to admit where they fall short when managing their personal relationships in a professional environment.