9 Ways CEOs Can Build Successful Business Relationships

Go ahead and write down the name of every highly effective leader you know, or have ever known, heard about, or read about. Include as many CEOs as possible.

Now go through your list and put a check mark next to the name of every one of those highly successful leaders who achieved their success all by themselves. In other words, they had no help, no support, no input, no guidance, and no encouragement from anyone else. If you’re like the thousands of others who have taken this challenge, chances are you’ll have no check marks whatsoever.

“There are very few things that will pay off as well as the quality of your relationships.”

The truth is, almost everything you have accomplished or will ever accomplish as a CEO can be traced to the quality of your relationships …. with your employees, customers and partners. That being the case, you should never ever leave those relationships to chance. Build them. Nurture them. And strengthen them. Because there are very few things that will pay off as well as the quality of your relationships.

So what can you do to build better relationships? Here are a few simple techniques you can use. Start using the ones that make the most sense to you.

  1. Use the other person’s name. One of the keys to Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership savvy was his memory and use of thousands of names. Spend a few minutes every day to learn a few more names in your organization’s world. And then, when you are passing someone in the hall, walking around your production floor, entering a meeting room, or greeting a customer, speak the other person’s name. It will make the other person feel ten feet tall and dramatically increase his willingness to work with you.
  1. Never eat alone. Don’t be a loner or inaccessible. Successful people grab lunch or a cup of coffee with people at work. It tells them that they are important because you are making time for them, but it also builds your people network.
  1. Ask more questions. If it’s been a while since you’ve spoken to the other person, ask, “What’s new?” and be genuinely interested in his or her answer. Notice items displayed in their offices; ask about their weekend. Learn about his or her hobbies and interests and ask about them. And try a Brave Question once in a while, asking such things as “What would you do if you were in my position?” Most people appreciate being the center of your attention.
  1. Have something of interest to say. Knowing all about the Kardashians, who is in the finals of “Dancing with the Stars,” and what NFL player is in trouble now, may not help you get ahead in your professional networks. But it will help you come across as more personable. The key is being able to talk comfortably about those things that interest the other person, whether they are business-related or not.
  1. Adapt your communication style to fit with the other person’s style. You increase your rapport with people when you use their preferred style of communication. So ask yourself, does he or she want the big picture or the details? Does he or she speak quickly or slowly? Does the person want to spend more time on small talk or get right down to business? Honor the other person’s preferences if at all possible.


  1. Send more notes. If you’ve arranged a special meeting with someone, follow up that meeting with a thank-you note. Send a handwritten note thanking the person for taking the time to meet with you. Send greeting cards … birthday, holiday, congratulations, and sympathy cards. Very few people practice this so-called “common courtesy” anymore, so your note automatically puts you in the top tier of exceptional people, not to mention outstanding leaders.


  1. Give more praise. Praise does wonders. Not only will the other person tend to hear and remember your praise, but he will be motivated to do his very best. A few ways that I’ve learned to make praise a part of my daily routine include the following:
  • Put your employees’ names on your weekly “to do” list, and cross off the names as you praise them.
  • Use voicemail to leave messages of praise for a job well done. You can even do this from your mobile phone on the way home.
  • At the beginning of the day, put five coins in your pocket. Then, during the day, each time you praise someone, transfer a coin to your other pocket.  It will hold you accountable and make praise a part of your daily routine.
  • Write praise notes at the end of the day. Keep a stack of note cards on your desk, where you can’t ignore them. At the end of the day, take a minute to write thank-you notes to anyone who made a difference that day.


Some of these techniques might sound a little corny, but so what! They work.


  1. Offer more help. Learn about the problems and issues the other person has to deal with. Find solutions. When you learn the other person needs a service, offer to connect the person to your resources. It may be as simple as saying, “I heard you say that you are looking for a mechanic (plumber, accountant, fishing guide, etc.). I’m really happy with the person I’m using. Would you like me to connect the two of you?”
  1. Go out of your way to show caring. It does wonders in building relationships. One CEO of a trucking firm learned that lesson accidentally, while he was worried about the company’s financial picture and his somewhat uncooperative employees. As he was about to go up to his office, he noticed a driver sitting by himself, looking upset. The CEO asked him what the problem was. “It’s my mom,” the driver said. “She’s in the hospital and there’s no one else to take care of her.”

The CEO told him to go see his mother and not worry. The grateful driver left, and then the CEO realized that someone would have to cover his deliveries that day. It had been years since the CEO had driven a truck route, but he managed to load up the truck and do the job. Later that day, the CEO went to the hospital with flowers to visit the driver and his mother.

This routine went on for several days, the CEO making deliveries and then visiting the hospital. News of the CEO’s concern for an employee traveled quickly. So when the time came for the drivers to vote on joining a union, they rejected it because they knew they had a leader who really cared about them.

When it comes to building relationships that work, the little things do matter.

Alan Zimmerman, PhD has spoken to more than 1 million people worldwide, giving them the tools they need to achieve their goals on and off the job. As a prominent, sought-after author and speaker, Dr. Zimmerman works with a variety of organizations and professional associations. His clients universally characterize him as genuine, down-to-earth, practical, and powerful.

The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work will be available on March 5th, 2015 from www.amazon.com, www.barnesandnoble.com and through all major booksellers. It is available for pre-release order at DrZimmerman.com.