Four Practices of Relational Leaders
When was the last time you were excited about your next meeting? Or you had members of your board excited about anything? Most of us think of meetings as necessary to get to what we want to accomplish. So, they become necessary hoops through which we jump to make progress or to succeed.
Too often, our meetings become energy-draining and monotonous.
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.
In building relationships, you know that people are your business. Even though you have finance meetings, programs to develop, and buildings to maintain, your focus is upon people. With that in mind, relational leaders make a shift from administering procedures to ministering to people.
Let Go of Business as Usual
Think of it this way. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus asks his listeners, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9). The people entrusted to your care are asking for bread. They are looking to you for trust, compassion, stability, and hope. They are looking to you to provide opportunities to grow in their faith. Too often what they find are invitations to attend meetings.
Long parliamentary-ordered business-as-usual meetings.
As a relational leader, it might be time to make a shift.
Make a Shift
So, take a moment to think about it. In what area can you make a shift? Just as an example, let’s take business meetings. How could you shift the focus of most meetings from procedure to people?
Let’s do it together. When people are your focus, everything you do, as a leader, is to assist the people entrusted to your care to become who God created them to be.
So, shift your thinking and your action.
Let’s continue with our example of business meetings. Meetings are important and necessary. But I have always thought of meetings as a means to an end and not an end in themselves. So, how do you use what you have, meetings, to develop relationships, and to assist people to thrive with the gifts, talents, and strengths they have?
Stone-like or Bread-like?
Let’s start with the current reality. Too many meetings are “stone-like” meetings. They do not take into consideration the needs or aspirations of the people attending.
They are repetitious, incomplete, and opinion-oriented. There is a rush to judgment, with decisions being made with inadequate information, little reflection time, and no prayerful discernment. Too many meetings are cut and dried, with the real decisions having already been made.
The people involved feel like they have little power to act or lead. At best, they feel used and powerless. At worse, they feel marginalized and useless. I am sure my assessment is a little harsh, but you get the point.
Have your goal in mind. Shift the culture of the meetings from “stonelike” to “bread-like.” Bread like meetings are focused upon images of God and the people of God in relationship with one another. Provide time to prayerfully discern God’s leading and call. Integrate inspiration with procedure so the meeting will feel more like “worship” than “meeting.”
How do you get to your goal? The following four practices will assist you in shifting from offering stones to providing bread in your meetings. Build your agenda around these four areas. They are not in any particular order and they don’t require the same amount of time. Sometimes one practice might be more appropriate than at other times. What is important is, you are focusing on the faith development of the people involved.
1. Stories or Story Telling
As you get started in the meeting, ask the people attending to share with one or two people where they have experienced God over the past 24 hours, the past week, or since the last meeting. Take time to acknowledge each story and pray for the person sharing. This will help people become more aware and sensitive to God’s presence in everyday and ordinary situations and circumstances. This also gives people the opportunity to share openly and freely about their experiences of Jesus and of God.
2. Reflection or Bible Study
Before the meeting, designate someone to read scripture and to make a comment upon it. The stories from scripture, when interwoven with the lives and stories of the people, produce a spiritual center and a missional focus. This provides an opportunity to reflect and discuss scripture without having a formal bible study. This also provides a safe place for people to share openly and freely their images of God and of God’s love.
3. Decisions or Prayerful discernment
Just as you take time to pray for one another and for the concerns of one another, take the time to prayerfully discern the decisions to be made. Use a spiritual eye rather than a rational or deductive process. This brings prayer to the center of the meeting. This also creates the understanding that decisions made by the group, on behalf of the community, are important. Everyone is affected by the decision.
4. Future Planning or Visioning
This provides an opportunity to look ahead, to anticipate the fulfillment of trends as well as the intervention of God. Given the reality that a board can make only a few good decisions in a year, ask the question, “What is the most important decision that we have to make this year?” Pick two or three major decisions and develop a process for consideration that includes good communication, lead time, and prayer.
Stories, Reflection, Decisions, and Planning
It takes a little time and not everyone will like the shifts, but given time, people will begin to experience that the agenda of each meeting is grouped into stories, reflections, decisions, and planning. As the leader, you have shifted energy-draining meetings into faith development experiences. You begin to offer bread to all who are asking for bread.
So, what one thing will you do to begin to make the shift from “stonelike” to “bread-like” meetings? Will you have a conversation with several trusted leaders? Or maybe, you will pray and seek a plan for making the shift? Will you share this blog with friends to gain new insight and direction?
I’m sure some of you will take a step in becoming a better relational leader. I am also sure that some of you will smile and say the district superintendent doesn’t know my people or my context. You will be right about your superintendent, but not about yourself as a relational leader.
This week, what one thing will you do to make the shift in your life to become a relational leader? 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Last week we talked about the four spaces you need to nurture relationships. This week, our conversation with Amy Graham focuses on nurturing the gifts God’s given you and others and what it can look like to be a relational leader.
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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