Relationships are the basis of trust, empowerment, and collaboration among a team. I have been a member of the Playhouse Square Ticket Sales and Service team for over 11 years and from the moment I stepped through its doors, I knew I was valued not only as an employee but as a person. Our Director and I have built a relationship on the foundation of trust and honesty which has led to great collaboration; something I see over and over at Playhouse Square. Over the years, I have created and cultivated relationships with our team that are not only work related, but personal.

As an arts organization, the last few years have been difficult for our team. However, when times became tough, our strong relationships kept us moving forward, aided in retention, and helped rebuild our team post-pandemic. People want to be known and cared about, and this in turn builds trust across your team and your patrons, resulting in retention of employees and revenue from your patrons.

In the book Exploring Leadership , readers are introduced to “Leadership as a Relationship between leaders and followers.” As opposed to earlier leadership theories, this theory was first proposed by Mary Parker Follet in the 1940s. It “argued for recognition of leadership as a reciprocal relationship requiring an active partnership of leaders and followers, although it is only in more recent years that such perspective has been taken seriously and scholars have endeavored to explore the nature of the leader-follower relationship” (p. 511). This theory looks at the processes by which a leader and his or her team establishes relationships that make them successful.

Over the years, I have attended the Secret Service Summit and now the Customer Service Revolution, which over time have refined how and why I work the way that I do. We have had the opportunity to hear from leaders around the world including Mel Robbins, Daniel Pink, Sally Hogshead, and so many more. What has always stood out to me in each of these keynote addresses or breakout sessions has been the focus on the relationships, when reflecting on successful companies and successful leadership. One theory that is presented each year at the conference, is instrumental to my work as a CX coach, and is practiced daily at Playhouse Square is FORD (Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams) . This theory holds that the basics of any relationship, be it with a patron, coworker, loved one, or friend, can truly grow when knowing the deeper workings of that person. People want to know that they are being listened to. Remembering and using their FORD helps them to know that you are genuinely invested in them as a person. FORD has truly transformed how I work with our patrons, clients, and our team. Great successes as an organization are directly attributable to the idea of having a relationship with not just our team, but our patrons.

The idea of FORD and building relationships is further explored in reference to leadership in the book Resonant Leadership , which revolves around the idea of a commitment to people and brings forward the idea that a great leader is one full of mindfulness, hope, and compassion. An example of a successful organization is described as, “[t]hey know each other as people…Personal relationships are encouraged—employees often get together for after-work barbecues and parties at the office…The egalitarian spirit seems to free people to build relationships, and get the work done, in unusually creative and flexible ways” (p. 31). At Playhouse Square, our Director of Sales has set a personal goal of knowing each member of her team, and this is something that has trickled down to our part-time staff. Learning where each member of your team wants to be in five years, what makes them tick, why they come to work, and even something as simple as their drink of choice makes them feel wanted and appreciated. The book further explains that emotions are always contagious and these healthy and vibrant cultures we are all longing to build all begin with our own Emotional Intelligence.

Relationships and the idea of moving others are also explored in Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human , a reflection on how every person is now in the business of sales. On page 61, Pink brings to the reader’s attention, “ [e]ach of us—because we’re human—has a selling instinct, which means that anyone can master the basics of moving others.” All of us have the unique opportunity to move others around us in our work and we as leaders must work to positively achieve this. Pink believes that there is no longer a traditional “sales” job as sales has become this idea of moving others, which is a definition of leadership. He believes in the power to use your head as much as your heart. “Social scientists often view perspective-taking and empathy as fraternal twins—closely related, but not identical. Perspective-taking is a cognitive capacity, it’s mostly about thinking. Empathy is an emotional response, it’s mostly about feeling” (p. 71). The combination of perspective thinking, and empathy is what Pink believes helps people excel in leadership roles. Exploring top salespeople, he has found that they have strong emotional intelligence, but they do not let their emotions sweep them away in their decisions. They can be curious, using the human emotions, but also continue to ask questions to get to the root of what they are trying to do. Working in the Sales and Services Department, our team does not simply believe in “getting the next sale” but instead, building the entire theatrical experience for our patrons. In theatre, we have the ability to change lives, and must embody this idea—the ability to move others—during every interaction with our patrons.

Leaders must be willing to create an environment based on relationships between them and their team members. A focus on relationships builds a culture which aids in aligning your and your team’s foundational values. To bring about substantive change, change that will create retention and drive revenue, the best leaders empower each person they work with to be their best selves, in turn cultivating a thriving workplace culture. And the easiest way to begin is focusing in on your people and who they are at their core.

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