“If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain. If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want one hundred years of prosperity, grow people.”
I’ll never forget her. She was such an inspiring leader. Beth, my former boss, made it a priority to spend time individually with each of her team members to listen. She was interested in not just reaching the goals of the organization but she was dedicated to making sure that our gifts and talents were used and integrated into the work as much as possible. One of the things that she created was a learning environment for the team. Despite the fact that we were distributed across the country, she was determined to create opportunities for reflection, discovery, and team building. Beth was an example of the power of relational leadership. In order to be effective, leaders must recognize the power of relationships:
- Leadership is casting a vision that captivates others to action.
Leaders are able to communicate with others well. Relational leaders are aware that everyone has a different way of understanding information, and takes the time to ensure that each team member not only comprehends the information but provides feedback.
- Leadership is about relationships.
Great leaders inspire great followers. The emerging research on followership demonstrates that great leaders offer guidance and mentorship. Leaders listen to both the spoken as well as the unspoken cues that are part of our organizations.
- Leaders must understand the role of their power and privilege because of their position.
Leaders know that because of their title, circles of influence and even knowledge can create power dynamics within your team and in the organization. Recognizing the role of your privilege is essential. Your lens is impacted by your race, ethnicity, gender, education level, social status, and other categories we occupy. We all make meaning of situations we encounter based on our lens in the aforementioned areas. Be aware of this and be willing to embrace that difference in others.
- The narrative of a leader can impact those who follow.
If we don’t pay attention to our stories, it is easy to recreate a new persona as Amanda Sinclair discusses in her book, Leadership for the Disillusioned: Moving Beyond Myths and Heroes to Leading That Liberates. In the book, she addresses the lives of leaders from several large corporations who had bad childhood experiences that were not addressed. This resulted in poor decisions and ultimately, impacted the organization and the livelihood of those on staff. If we don’t examine our past, we miss an opportunity for growth.
Relational leadership recognizes two dynamics: the role of individuals and their relationships as well as understanding the perspective of individuals in creating meaning in relationships, and the historical / social constructs that exists. This is an ongoing process of creating and relating to others. Relational leadership is a collaborative social process. We need people to reach the goals for our team, department, and the organization. More engagement means better outcomes. Relational leaders create opportunities for reflection and learning to enhance their leadership toolkit.
I have stated that relational leadership encompasses an opportunity for leaders, and their followers to make meaning of their interactions and knowledge by seeing leadership as more than a list of technical dos and don’ts. But this is an adaptive process that requires a change in thinking based on the self-awareness and knowledge gained from the interactions with others.
Relational leadership also is inclusive. It includes being adaptive and is always reworked based on the information gained from the relationship. Relational leaders understand the value of stories and gaining information from the stories that not only reach the desired goals, but create a mutually beneficial relationship.
I am thankful for leaders such as Beth who poured into me and my leadership. In a world that is becoming increasingly challenging, relationships are critical in making the changes that we’d like to see in our workplaces and communities. In order to build strong organizations, strong communities, and stronger systems that truly impact others, we must begin to look at how we are connecting to others and encourage our organizations to look at the way we value others. We reach our goals as an organization when are committed to building relational leadership that will ultimately increase individual and collective well-being, and the productivity of our companies.
Froswa Booker-Drew, gained a PhD with a focus on social capital, relational leadership and change management. She is currently the Director of Community Affairs/Strategic Alliances for the State Fair of Texas and the author of two workbooks for women. She is a Dallas Public Voices Fellow (Op-Ed Project). Visit her