Leadership = Relationship

team leader talking with diverse coworkers at meeting

Some things just go together, don’t they? Salt and pepper; socks and shoes; pins and needles; nuts and bolts; and cake and ice cream. We have visual associations with pairs of items like bride and groom, paper and pencil, and hugs and kisses. Thinking along similar lines, it’s difficult to think about leaders without thinking about their relationships.

Leaders relate on many different levels: supervisor/employee, parent/child, manager/team, or mentor/mentee. To be effective and impact others’ lives, leaders must think long and hard about the relationships in their life. Consider the following equations:

Effective Leadership = Healthy Relationships

No one wants a toxic relationship. You work hard to make your relationships healthy and positive. Several characteristics point to establishing and maintaining relationships that enrich interactions with others. Listening is a key element in demonstrating you want a beneficial relationship. It is a skill that can be learned, so you can learn to pay close attention to what is happening around you.

Communication is another important characteristic that determines how healthy a relationship is. If spouses don’t talk, their marriage is headed for trouble. A boss who doesn’t communicate with his employees can count on business difficulties down the road. A friend who doesn’t answer letters or emails decreases the likelihood of a lasting friendship.

For a relationship to be healthy, those involved must show concern for others. This is common sense, isn’t it? If you want people to relate to you positively, then you need to be kind and care about them and what’s happening in their lives. When you exhibit this characteristic, your relationships move to a higher level and become more rewarding.

Being sensitive to others’ needs is a mark of someone who values other people and supports them through difficult times. Financial troubles, emotional trials, or physical illness can affect relationships if sensitive support is missing.

Fifty-seven percent of businesses surveyed said they want leaders who will build and mend relationships. 

What You Do = Who You Are

Leaders, if they want to lead well, cannot treat others badly. Again, this is common sense, isn’t it? Don’t think for a moment people won’t notice a bad attitude or uncaring spirit in your behavior. Remember these 6 simple words that can make a difference in your leader relationships:

  • give—Give encouragement, time, energy, and your best.
  • care—Care about others’ feelings, needs, and interests.
  • grow—Grow in your understanding of how to lead and help others learn also.
  • empower—Empower those you lead to become effective leaders.
  • manage—Manage the tasks assigned to you, meet deadlines, and fulfill your leadership responsibilities.
  • serve—Develop the spirit of a servant leader and encourage others to have a servant mentality.

Being Intentional = Work

It isn’t enough simply to learn the skills a leader needs. These skills must be applied to your relationships. Consider these thoughts as you plan how you will make and keep your relationships strong:

  • As you build teams and do your work, value the diversity members represent. Diversity brings depth.
  • Within that diversity, foster collaboration. Be inclusive as you plan and delegate. When there is a strong group effort, the chances for success are maximized.
  • As the group works together, encourage members’ development as leaders. An effective leader leaves a legacy of equipped and motivated leaders to carry on.
  • As others assume leadership roles, keep in mind their personal circumstances and show them you want them to succeed.
  • Remember much of your success and that of others depends on how self-disciplined you are. Your ability to control your tongue, monitor your attitude, and consider others’ feelings may make the difference between healthy and sickly relationships.

Relational Leading = Lasting Legacy

Paul’s admonition “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3 ESV) is a great reminder for all leaders that their relationships need to be strong and healthy. A leader with no people skills or an “it’s all about me” attitude will not be successful in motivating others to excel, managing tasks, or mentoring future leaders.

Leaving a lasting legacy should be one of a leader’s primary goals. If you lead a missions group, don’t you want your zeal for proclaiming the good news to continue? Your passion for ministering to a lost and needy world should last beyond your lifetime.           

All these elements point to a leader’s being committed to developing relationships with others and leading them with compassion and concern. Relational leading fosters individual potential and helps create groups and organizations that accomplish the work given to them.

Much of the math we learned in school is lost to us because we don’t use it. We would do well, however, to remember these equations as we approach leadership relationships. Lead through relationships!

Linda Clark is president of Indiana WMU and adult lead strategist for national WMU. She has written several books on leadership for New Hope Publishers, including 5 Leadership Essentials for Women, which addresses relationship skills.


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