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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

3 Lessons From Obama on Building Relationships With Other Leaders

President Barack Obama meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. President Barack Obama meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

This weekend, President Obama will host the new president of China, Xi Jinping, for two days at a resort called Sunnyvale in Rancho Mirage, California. As reported in the New York Times and other outlets, the two leaders will spend a lot of time in relaxed and unscripted conversations with the goal of getting to know each other better.

While there are risks involved in such an approach, they seem to be outweighed by the potential rewards of the leaders of the world’s two biggest superpowers better understanding each other. Their approach holds a lesson for leaders in all walks of life who, like Obama and Xi, find themselves simultaneously collaborating and competing with their peers.

When people rely on each other without really knowing each other an information vacuum is created. Nature abhors a vacuum and, when it comes to leaders who depend on each other without knowing each other, that vacuum is often filled with assumptions, misperceptions and stories that the parties make up about each other.

I see this happen all the time in my executive coaching work with leaders. The most effective ones recognize the dynamic and take steps to counteract it. The more they get to know and trust their peers, the more they get done together.

How can you get the ball rolling on working better with your fellow leaders? Here are three steps to get started:

1. Pay Attention: Take half an hour to step back from your daily routine and think about who you interact with a lot but really don’t know that well. Who are the two or three leaders that are at the top of the list? Make a commitment to yourself to get to know those people better over the next three months.

2. Create Some Down Time: Take the initiative to create some one on one down time for you and each of the leaders on your list. Invite them to grab a coffee, a meal or a sporting event together. Get out of your office so that the conversation focuses more on the people than the business. Talk about your families, your hobbies, favorite vacation spots, where you grew up – anything other than work.

3. Look for Shared Interests: After you’ve had a few laughs together and gotten to know each other better, look for some shared work interests. Ask each other what success looks like in the coming year. Talk about shared customers or projects. Look for simple ways to support each other that are relatively easy for each of you to follow through on and likely to make a difference.

So, what do you think? Ready to take some next steps? What other ideas do you have to reset the way you and your fellow leaders work together?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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