This article is part of a series highlighting key takeaways from my recently published book, Truth from the Trenches, A Practical Guide to the Art of IT Management. As a seven-time CIO, I\u2019ve had an opportunity to observe the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of IT management up close and personal. Truth from the Trenches is my attempt to share my experiences with emerging IT leaders to help them avoid the chronic problems that afflict so many IT organizations.\n\n\nSocial scientists have become increasingly convinced that constructive, empathetic relationships with other human beings play a key role in increasing an individual\u2019s life expectancy. That isn\u2019t exactly news to IT leaders who realized a long time ago that their on-the-job life expectancy depends directly on the relationships they form with business executives. With the recent celebration of Valentine\u2019s Day, it struck me to provide some relationship advice to overworked IT leaders who are seeking some love, or at least some respect, from their business counterparts.\n\n\nThere are so many things that can go wrong within an IT organization that shrewd IT leaders consciously or unconsciously build up a reservoir of trust and accomplishments that they can draw upon when IT fails to deliver on business expectations. To be perfectly blunt, if business leaders like and respect their IT counterparts, they\u2019re willing to forgive a world of sins; if they dislike you, they can undermine your personal reputation and subvert your major initiatives. Here are a few suggestions for developing relationships that can weather adversity and actually make day-to-day business more enjoyable and more productive:\n\nInvest in your relationships with executives\n\nSuccessful relationships with business executives are two-dimensional in nature and have both a social and business component. The social dimension is actually the easiest to cultivate. Most individuals telegraph their outside-of-work interests rather openly and require very little urging to talk about their kids, favorite sports teams, alma maters, vacations, hobbies, etc. It\u2019s actually quite difficult to fail to find some type of common outside-of-work interest that can form the basis of a social relationship with a business colleague.\u00a0\n\n\nQuite unintentionally, I developed a close working relationship with the CFO at a former company that was triggered and sustained by our mutual love for the New York Yankees. The CFO and I were the first to arrive at work every morning and we would inevitably end up in the coffee bar. We exploited the opportunity to bemoan the Yankees\u2019 failings \u2014 whether it was a failed at-bat, a dropped ball or bad call from the night before. Our shared pain over the Yankees\u2019 failings paid off at budget time, when I was able to negotiate IT spending levels for the next fiscal year in a much more open and straightforward fashion.\n\n\nIn contrast, the business dimension of executive relationships is typically much more difficult to establish.\u00a0\n\n\nA genuine curiosity about how a business works is one of the most important traits of successful IT leaders. Business executives cannot fail to be impressed when their IT counterparts proactively seek opportunities to learn about their problems and challenges. Just because IT leaders aren\u2019t invited to participate in a business unit QBR, a sales pipeline review or a customer marketing presentation doesn\u2019t mean that their participation would be unwelcome. Even if the leader\u2019s ability to participate in such meetings is limited by a lack of domain knowledge, he or she will score points by exhibiting a personal interest in business operations and customer relationships.\n\n\nBusiness travel is the perfect opportunity to cultivate relationships with business peers. There\u2019s ample downtime during a business trip to casually talk about out-of-office interests, and there are multiple opportunities to participate in informal business discussions. Some of the most valuable lessons regarding the issues and opportunities facing a company can be learned in airline lounges or over business dinners, rather than in formal conference rooms. Invitations to travel with business peers or join them for lunch or dinner should never be casually declined.\n\nAvoid common relationship mistakes\n\nIT leaders make chronic mistakes in trying to build constructive relationships with their business counterparts. Several of the more prominent errors are:\n\n\nFocusing on form over substance: Just because you attend a lot of regularly scheduled meetings with your business counterparts doesn\u2019t necessarily mean you are developing effective working relationships with them! Familiarity sometimes breeds contempt instead of confidence.\nEmphasizing analysis over intuition: Business executives frequently feel that IT leaders hide behind a lot of numbers, tables and viewgraphs. They would like their IT counterparts to speak from the heart and demonstrate more personal passion and commitment to specific projects and activities. Unfortunately, many IT leaders have been explicitly trained to refrain from emotional expressions of personal passion or intuition.\nFailing to make regular deposits in the relationship bank: Relationships are not something you work on when things go wrong. They need to be nurtured and sustained even when everything is going along perfectly well. Leaders need to consciously devote time to checking in on and interacting with key business partners on a routine basis, even if they have no explicit agenda. That way, you don\u2019t find yourself in a situation where you\u2019re asking a business counterpart for forgiveness or funding after a long hiatus in face-to-face contact.\nBeing poisoned by your own team: A leader\u2019s own organization may lobby against his or her relationship-building efforts. Business relationship managers, service managers or business systems analysts may feel that such relationships are their responsibility. Consequently, they may feel their roles are being co-opted or undermined when their leader starts devoting significant attention to their client group. On the other hand, they may be so frustrated by their inability to develop effective relationships with their clients that they advise their leader that business outreach efforts are doomed to fail.\nBuilding relationships that are easy instead of those that count: Not all business units and functional teams are created equally. Whether we like to admit it or not, there\u2019s an inevitable pecking order in the importance of a company\u2019s business units and functions that usually corresponds to the financial results they deliver. Astute leaders will apportion their relationship-building time and attention accordingly.\u00a0 More effort may be required to establish effective relationships with the leaders of dominant business units or influential functions but such efforts will yield disproportionate benefits when major decisions impacting IT are under consideration.\n\n\nChinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, \u201cbeing deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.\u201d These same sentiments apply to the business relationships discussed above. The trust and respect of business partners will strengthen the role that an IT leader can play in re-engineering existing business processes or implementing longer term business strategies. Reciprocating that trust and respect will give IT leaders the courage they need to act on those impulses.