September 2023 Board Member Newsletter Article
THE ART OF RELATIONSHIPS
Robin Anthony, President
Greater Stillwater Chamber of Commerce
The most important thing I have learned over the years is that relationships matter. I mean they really matter. They can be the difference between success and failure. Leading a Chamber is hard. Really hard. It can also be rewarding. Really rewarding. How are your relationships?
When I first started my role at the Chamber in Stillwater, I really did not know any of the City of Stillwater staff. One of the first things I did was set up meetings with the City Clerk (as you know, that is the person that internally runs the show day to day) and the City Administrator, the top leader of the city. Before the meeting I did some research on each one of them to learn: what interests they had; what was important to them; where did they work before; did they have kids; etc. I kept all this information in my back pocket, so I was prepared to ask questions about them. True fact. Most people like to talk about themselves, their experiences, and their passions. First, I would introduce myself, provide my background and the story of how I got into this leadership position with a Chamber of Commerce. (You know, it’s not a common job. There is only one of us doing this job in our area. So, our role is important. We need to remind ourselves of that from time to time.) Then, I ask them about their background and start peppering the personal questions. That is where the relationship begins.
Today, I meet monthly with the City Administrator, the Community Development Director, and the Police Chief. Because of these trusted relationships now, our community is pretty solid. It is not always easy conversations, but it is productive, strategic, and relevant. Especially when you do events in your town; you need, and you want these relationships. Now, I have all the department heads and city council members’ cell numbers on my phone. They call me and ask questions and advice, and I call them.
The beauty of this, what turns out to be a mutual trusted relationship, is when you need something they are there for you. This might sound simple, but it is important. Especially when your back is up against a wall as a Chamber executive.
This is also a two-way street. The city’s job is to govern. However, sometimes instead of always having to be black and white they can find the gray. That’s how you can help your business community. Working with the city to bend towards flexibility a little more on inspections, permits, policies and processes. In turn, we as a Chamber help the city look good when we can and educate new and existing businesses navigating them through these challenges. In the end, we all win then.
Relationships take time. I continue to remind my staff of this. They get so frustrated when they ask people for things and they don’t respond right away… but when I text them, they respond straight away, and generally with a yes. Time, trust, mutual respect that is earned, active listening, flexing your leadership style, and recognition are all so important to building and enhancing relationships. You cannot and never should demand respect because of your position. You can’t treat everyone the same because what is important to one person may not be to the next. People are complex.
We are in our fifth year of our leadership program and the previous City Administrator was on the design team assisting with the implementation of our program. Since the inception, we have always had city staff go through the cohort. On our kick-off day we use the StrengthFinders tool. Learning about people’s strengths is very valuable as it gives insight into how they are wired. As mentioned above, people are not one size fits all. Learning more about individuals you want to engage with gives you the opportunity to change your approach, your tone, and your behaviors while interacting with others; there stands the power of success. As a Chamber executive, relationships are the biggest asset you have. Just remember, it is not as easy as paint by numbers. Relationships is an art. Art is hard work, and we work hard. Go out and create your own personal masterpiece. You’ve got this!