5 Traits of Relational Leaders

The challenges facing you, as a leader, today are many and varied. We are living in a complex and demanding time. Not only has the world changed at an alarming rate, but you have done all you were equipped to do to meet the challenges. Whether you are a pastor, congregational leader, parent, teacher, coach, business or community leader you are looking for a way to make a difference with the people entrusted to your care and direction.  

When we reach these moments in life, we tend to look for rules to live by or principles to adopt. But the way to make a difference at this point in time is not through more rules, but through relationships. The biggest challenge we face today is in living disconnected lives. We are detached from God, from one another, and from creation. We are losing the art of living with one another.

Develop Healthy Relationships

Now, you might not realize it, but you already possess what is needed to meet this challenge. You would not be in a position of caring for others if you did not already possess the capacity to build and sustain relationships. I learned early in my life, when things weren’t working properly, to go back to the basics. I’m sure relationships are important at all times, but in times like these, the fundamental competency of all good leaders is developing healthy relationships.

Recent research conducted by Harvard University found that when leaders focus on building relationships, they create conditions that lead to higher levels of commitment as well as increased accountability, hope, and satisfaction.

To meet the leadership challenges of today, it is time to get back to the basics. You already possess what is needed to help the people around you become more who God has created them to be. You are changing the world as you develop relationships with love and grace and assist others to do the same.

5 Reminders for Healthy Relationships

Relational Leaders make a shift from “administering” procedures to ministering to people. Here are five things to remember as you focus upon building and maintaining relationships.

1. Grow in your Self-awareness

Self-awareness is not only knowing your strengths and weaknesses but is also knowing the impact that your behavior has on others. For example, let’s say you enjoy hands-on involvement with people entrusted to your care. 

To be self-aware means you would also realize that your hands-on style might frustrate people who also enjoy such interaction and who have been given responsibility for certain areas of ministry. Your behavior creates the appearance that you don’t trust or appreciate them or value their work. By considering your actions, you can adjust how you relate to the people around you.

So, if you are going to be an effective leader, take a step back to consider the realities challenges of the people around you and focus upon their strengths and skills as you understand and improve your own. That is why self-awareness and understanding are essential in building healthy relationships.

2. Delegate important tasks and decision making

Delegating helps to build experience and confidence in others. It also forces you to give honest, consistent feedback and to motivate and affirm people for their work. With that in mind, it is important to know the strengths of the people with whom you are working.

Effective leadership is not about overcoming weaknesses but is building upon the strengths of the people with whom you are working. True delegation is centered in knowing what strengthens the whole. This is where building relationships is important. You discover what excites people and you give them responsibility where they can and will fully invest themselves. It is in and through your relationships that you connect people to what truly makes a difference in the world.

3. Grow in your interpersonal skills

Effective leaders are able to negotiate and handle problems without alienating others. This requires understanding others’ perspectives and needs. You are able to develop a rapport with all kinds of people.

Have you ever known a school principal who is equally comfortable with students, parents, teaching staff, and school board? If so, you have seen interpersonal skills at their best. Here is where healthy relationships help you grow and mature as a leader.  As you interact with each individual and group, you are sharpening your skills as a leader.

4. Be collaborative in style

Effective leaders use listening skills and communication to involve others, build consensus, and influence decisions. It is easy to focus upon what you want to accomplish or what matters most to you. It is easy to fall into “I can do this better myself.” This often leads to using people as a means to an end rather than helping them become who God created them to be.

This is where healthy relationships help you understand what people hope to accomplish and what makes them feel as if they are truly making a difference. This is where you help people connect with the mission and invest themselves in it. On the surface, being an autocratic leader seems to bring greater results. But over time, the leader who values relationships and is collaborative builds support and can accomplish more.

5. Receive and give feedback 

Effective feedback is one of the best ways leaders can improve their relationship skills. Feedback lets people know how they’re doing, reinforces goals, and encourages engagement. When giving feedback, remember to be clear is kind. Make sure to focus on a single message, be specific, and sensitive. Judge the behavior, not the person.

When receiving feedback, remember to risk vulnerability. An effective leader will not only receive the feedback but will engage the people around her/him to incorporate appropriate changes. Being good at relationships isn’t a personality trait. It does not depend upon whether you are an extrovert, outgoing and good at conversation. A good leader listens and is open to becoming who God has created him/her to be. Even introverts can do that.  

Interconnected Relationships

We are living in a divisive world. Whether it is differing political views, theological debates, or just the way people were raised, our world is divided like no other time in recent history. Your effectiveness is no longer dependent upon whether you are relevant, use technology, or meet in the sanctuary. Your effectiveness is in your ability to adapt, evolve, and function in today’s complex and interconnected environment. 

There is no doubt about it, our churches and communities need effective leaders.  Leaders who can develop, cultivate, nourish, and adapt the relationships needed to navigate the chaos and confusion of today and lead into a new future. It is time to get back to the basics.

Your Next Step

This week think of one or two persons entrusted to your care. People with whom you live, work, or play. What is one thing you can and will do to improve your relationship with them? Remember, your effectiveness is in your ability to relate to the people and culture around you.  What one thing will you do to improve your relationships?

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.

Check out the LeaderCast podcast. This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships.  This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

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