Tag Archive for Relational

Yes, Relationships Are Important

February just seems to be a good month to talk about relationships. I’m sure it has something to do with Valentine’s Day, with it’s accompanying emphasis on flowers, chocolate, and Hallmark cards, and a focus that seems to primarily be on romantic relationships. The reality is, however, that relationships are a vital part of everything we do, whether that involves family, friends, or work. We operate in relationship with others, and more and more it seems that research and study are recognizing this.

Much of the “brain-based education” research in recent years has resulted in the realization of the importance of the teacher-student relationship in the shaping of children, and even, literally, in the shaping of their brains. The concept of social intelligence has pointed out the cellular biological connection and influence that happens in an interaction between people, underscoring the importance of being able to connect well with people. Leadership studies have developed theories that account for both task management and people management, and the most recent theories of leadership – related to authentic leadership – heavily emphasize the need to develop and maintain genuine relationships with people.

You probably realize that this simply makes sense. People matter, and relationships are important. Therefore, we need to intentionally foster relationships with people, and in a great variety of ways. We need to build relationships with people from whom we can learn, mentors who will help us to grow. We need to build relationships with people that have potential to grow, so that we can mentor and develop others. We need to build relationships with our coworkers and peers, our supervisors, and our subordinates, so that we can better function together within the organization. We need to be investing in the relationships we have with our family members – our spouses, our children, our parents (because, after all, your family is more important than your job). Everywhere that we connect with people, we need to be intentionally building relationships.

What is most important in all of these relationships, though, is that they be genuine. They cannot be based on ulterior, selfish motives that seek to take advantage of others for personal gain. If that’s the case, then it is no longer relationship-building, but manipulation, and manipulation will only cause damage and frustration and hurt to both you and them. We need to build relationships, but we need to be genuine about it, connecting with people and caring about people because they matter, and connecting in ways that are beneficial for them as much as for us.

Recently, my boss – the chairman of the board of directors – spoke with me about the need for me to take more opportunities to personally connect with our constituents. I had been guilty of hiding behind my introverted tendencies, and was letting others stand up front at events in the visible role. I was reminded and encouraged by him to put myself in front of people and make myself more accessible, because they needed to be able to feel connected with me, for the benefit and health of the organization. And he was right.

I immediately began putting myself on the agenda at the beginning of public events, even if only to stand in front and take a couple of minutes to welcome everyone. I also started standing at the main exit door after events to simply smile, greet, and thank people. In addition, I took a page from Verne Harnish’s “Scaling Up” and started building into my schedule regular interaction with customers, in the form of a planned personal interaction with two or three individual families a week. All of these things were specific steps to help me meet, connect with, and build relationships with people. I knew it was important to do, but I had allowed myself to let it slip as a priority, and so I needed the reminder to continue focusing on relationships.

Now, I’m reminding you. You also need to be connecting with people and building relationships. You probably have your own story that illustrates the importance of this (and feel free to share your story), but perhaps you too have let it slide. Get back out there, meet with people, invest in people, and put a priority on relationships. Relationship building and maintaining (in a genuine way) are integral and essential to your life – at home, at work, and in your community and social life – therefore you need to be intentional about doing it. Build relationships. It matters.

 

Quotable (Jeff McMaster, on being relational)

“Effective leadership, leadership that results in personal and organizational change, happens best within the context of relationship.”

 

Dr. Jeffrey S. McMaster,

Be Relational

Be Relational

I believe that effective leadership, leadership that results in personal and organizational change, happens best within the context of relationship. In any situation or environment, there are leaders and followers; while those players can change, both – whether they be individuals or groups – are necessary. You cannot eliminate or ignore the fundamental fact that there is a relationship that exists between leaders and subordinates, therefore the effective leader will intentionally build and nurture relationships that benefit the leader, the followers, and the organization.

During my first year as the head of a school, initially I kept getting annoyed with the fact that necessary tasks were constantly interrupted by people and their needs. In the course of that year, as I developed in my leadership, I realized that I needed to allow time for people. At first, I thought I could simply do this by budgeting a certain amount of time for tasks and the rest of my time for people. I quickly learned that I couldn’t really budget specific time for people; rather, I needed to make people and relationships the priority. Over the next few years, my own research validated for me the important of relationship in leadership development, affirming the “value of relationship for effective leadership and its importance to leadership development . . . [and affirming] its importance for components such as building trust, communicating effectively, resolving conflict, impacting perceptions, and effecting change.” (McMaster, 2013, p. 78)

Current leadership views have also drawn the same conclusion, evident in a number of leadership theorists who have highlighted or indicated the importance of relationship as a characteristic of effective leadership. For example, Margaret Wheatley (1999) includes as one of her leadership principles the focus on building and nurturing relationships that benefit the culture. Michael Fullan (2001) includes relationships as one of the five factors that leaders must manage in order to lead through change, and specifically says, “It is time . . . to alter our perspective to pay as much attention to how we treat people – co-workers, subordinates, customers – as we now typically pay attention to structures, strategies, and statistics. . . . there is a new style of leadership in successful companies – one that focuses on people and relationships as essential to getting sustained results.” (p. 53) Kouzes’ and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge (2002) described “five practices of exemplary leadership” and their application to leading through change, including the practices of “model the way”, “enable others to act,” and “encourage the heart,” all of which are instrumental in relationship building. And the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory of leadership, as explained by Graen and Uhl-Bien, “makes the leader-member relationship the pivotal concept in the leadership process.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 182)

Even beyond these few examples, as modern leadership theories and concepts have shifted in emphasis from transactional style (leadership is based on an exchange process between the leader and follower) to transformational style (leadership appeals to the moral fiber of the followers to enlist their support and involvement for their own benefit), the relationship between leaders and followers has become a focal point. I have learned this lesson clearly over the time of my leadership in the last few years, and I have now come to truly understand the importance of developing relationships with those whom I am directly leading or trying to impact. In my leadership roles, I have focused on building a culture of relationship between myself and my subordinates and superiors in order to facilitate an environment of greatest impact. Relationship has become pivotal to my practice of leadership.

People really do matter. When leaders show them that they matter, building a culture of relationship, then people will believe that they matter and the organization will benefit. It makes sense.

 

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McMaster, J. S. (2013). The Influence of Christian Education on Leadership Development. The Journal of Applied Chrisitan Leadership, 7(1), 17.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

 

The Way of the Shepherd, by Kevin Leman and William Pentak

The Way of the Shepherd, Leman and Pentak, coverI learned early on in my leadership development, by both example and experience, that it is important to take care of people. Eventually, this became one the core attributes of my leadership philosophy and practice. However, I experienced a time at one organization when it seemed like, by being very intentional about taking care of my specific employee group, I was fighting an uphill battle of resistance among much of my surrounding leadership team. It felt like whenever I tried to identify and implement something that would allow my employees to feel taken care of, my peers within leadership tried to derail rather than support me.

It was during that time that I came across the book, The Way of the Shepherd, by Kevin Leman and William Pentak. This particular book was a wonderful encouragement to me in reinforcing my belief in the importance of taking care of people (especially when my encouragement at that time was not coming from the people around me). I resonated with the principles and ideas within, so much so that I have since used the book again in other places as a leadership study.

The book draws lessons on leadership from an illustration of a modern shepherd and his sheep. In the process, management principles are presented that focus on character, priorities, and caring, aimed at engaging your employees and developing yourself. Using the shepherd/sheep analogy, Leman and Pentak expound on these 7 principles:

  • Know the condition of your flock – know your people, engage your people, and care about your people
  • Discover the shape of your sheep – choose and use people that fit, according to their strengths
  • Help your sheep identify with you – communicate authenticity and a shared vision
  • Make your pasture a safe place – build security and significance, and address issues
  • Use the staff of direction – provide direction, empower people, and help them grow
  • Use the rod of correction – protect, correct, and inspect
  • Develop the heart of a shepherd – live a genuine example of caring leadership

It’s a fairly short book, easy to read, but I found it to be a great resource and encouragement in my leadership. The principles make sense and are very applicable for effective leadership. This is definitely a book for your shelf if you are trying to make a difference in your people.

 

Leman, K., and Pentak, W. (2004). The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Take Care of People

Leadership generally involves two aspects: tasks and people. Often, it seems to be easier for us to give our attention to tasks than it does it people, and it also seems that most leadership books focus more on strategies related to tasks than to people. Maybe that’s because tasks are more definable and more easily organized and planned, while people are more unpredictable and require more emotional investment. But whatever the reason, I believe that a truly effective leader understands the value of people, and knows that people are more important than tasks. It follows then, that a good leader will take care of people.

When I first entered the world of education as a teacher, I was blessed to have both a headmaster and a principal who invested in me and cared about me. And it wasn’t just me; they cared about all of the faculty and staff. I received wonderful support, constructive criticism, and guidance that helped me to develop and flourish. Then there came a time when I experienced some particularly difficult personal circumstances, when the trials of life were overwhelming and I was struggling to manage. During this time, these two individuals – my leaders – lifted me up and walked along side me. Out of these circumstances, and from these leaders, I learned the value and importance of taking care of people.

When I eventually had the opportunity to become an administrator of a school, I carried that experience with me. It became one of my core values, as a headmaster, to take care of the people who worked with and for me. I did it because it had been done for me and had meant so much to me as a teacher, but I soon learned the value of this practice from the leader’s perspective. I learned that when I genuinely cared for and took care of the people who worked for me, the security and significance that resulted for them produced two beneficial responses: 1) they could focus their energy and effort on doing their jobs well, because they were not carrying fear or anxiety from job insecurity, and 2) because they knew I cared, and had tangible evidence to support that belief, they then cared about me and were willing to follow me with enthusiasm.

Kevin Leman and William Pentak communicated this same idea in The Way of the Shepherd, stating clearly, “You have to really care about people. You can go through all the right mechanics, but if you don’t genuinely care about the people who report to you, you’ll never be the kind of leader they’ll drop everything to follow” (2004, p. 27). The point is, people need to know that they matter, and they need to know that you care. And although leadership is about both tasks and people, the mistake that we can easily make is to let tasks and agenda prevent us from caring about people (I spoke about this in a previous post, on the importance of being relational). When we are focusing on ourselves rather than on others, it becomes too easy to think that we must know enough and do enough to lead people effectively, but in reality – as I have frequently heard stated – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Robert Greenleaf, who first developed the modern leadership theory of servant leadership, shared that people “will freely respond only to individuals who are chosen as leaders because they are proven and trusted as servants” (1977, p. 24). He went on to say that a servant-leader is servant first, which “manifests itself in the care taken . . . to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served” (1977, p. 27). Essentially, “servant leadership emphasizes that leaders be attentive to the concerns of their followers, empathize with them, and nurture them” (Northouse, 2013, p. 219). This is the leader who shows his people that he cares about them, and it’s a genuine care (because they can tell if it is not). And this is the type of leadership that I first experienced as a follower, and learned to appreciate so much that it became a primary characteristic of my own leadership.

So I would say to you: People matter; take care of them. When their needs are not being met, they become insecure because they are now concerned about their own needs. When they are insecure in their jobs, they won’t (and can’t) give you their best efforts, because they can’t give you all of their attention – they are now focused on protecting their own needs. When you haven’t shown them that you care about them, you prevent a mutual relationship and response of trust and support, and they are unwilling to follow you wholeheartedly. It may cost you some sacrifice to genuinely care and to take care of them, but the reward in their response will far exceed the sacrifice you make. So, take care of them. And do it because they matter.

Greenleaf, R. K. (1977). Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power & Greatness (25th Anniversary Edition). Paulist Press: Mahwah, NJ.

Leman, K., and Pentak, W. (2004). The Way of the Shepherd: 7 Ancient Secrets to Managing Productive People. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (6th Edition). Sage Publications: Los Angeles, CA.

Be Relational

This month we are focusing on relationship principles in the context of leadership. The most obvious of those is that of being relational, or building genuine, trusting, and personal relationships that enhance and improve leadership. This particular post is an expanded version of one of the first few that were published on the sight; over time, the original has been my most popular post, so in light of this month’s theme, it seemed appropriate to share it again.

I believe that effective leadership, leadership that results in personal and organizational change, happens best within the context of relationship. In any situation or environment, there are leaders and followers; while those players can change, both – whether they be individuals or groups – are necessary. You cannot eliminate or ignore the fundamental fact that there is a relationship that exists between leaders and subordinates, therefore the effective leader will intentionally build and nurture relationships that benefit the leader, the followers, and the organization.

During my first year as the head of a school, initially I kept getting annoyed with the fact that necessary tasks were constantly interrupted by people and their needs. In the course of that year, as I developed in my leadership, I realized that I needed to allow time for people. At first, I thought I could simply do this by budgeting a certain amount of time for tasks and the rest of my time for people. I quickly learned that I couldn’t really budget specific time for people; rather, I needed to make people and relationships the priority. Over the next few years, my own research validated for me the importance of relationship in leadership development, affirming the “value of relationship for effective leadership and its importance to leadership development . . . [and affirming] its importance for components such as building trust, communicating effectively, resolving conflict, impacting perceptions, and effecting change.” (McMaster, 2013, p. 78)

Current leadership views have also drawn the same conclusion, evident in a number of leadership theorists who have highlighted or indicated the importance of relationship as a characteristic of effective leadership. For example, Margaret Wheatley (1999) includes as one of her leadership principles the focus on building and nurturing relationships that benefit the culture. Michael Fullan (2001) includes relationships as one of the five factors that leaders must manage in order to lead through change, and specifically says, “It is time . . . to alter our perspective to pay as much attention to how we treat people – co-workers, subordinates, customers – as we now typically pay attention to structures, strategies, and statistics. . . . there is a new style of leadership in successful companies – one that focuses on people and relationships as essential to getting sustained results” (p. 53). Kouzes’ and Posner’s The Leadership Challenge (2002) describes “five practices of exemplary leadership” and their application to leading through change, including the practices of “model the way”, “enable others to act,” and “encourage the heart,” all of which are instrumental in relationship building. And the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) theory of leadership, as explained by Graen and Uhl-Bien, “makes the leader-member relationship the pivotal concept in the leadership process” (Northouse, 2013, p. 182).

Even beyond these few examples, as modern leadership theories and concepts have shifted in emphasis from transactional style (leadership is based on an exchange process between the leader and follower) to transformational style (leadership appeals to the moral fiber of the followers to enlist their support and involvement for their own benefit), the relationship between leaders and followers has become a focal point. I have learned this lesson clearly over the time of my leadership in the last few years, and I have now come to truly understand the importance of developing relationships with those whom I am directly leading or trying to impact. In my leadership roles, I have focused on building a culture of relationship between myself and my subordinates and superiors in order to facilitate an environment of greatest impact. Relationship has become pivotal to my practice of leadership.

As a result, what has changed for me is the intentional focus I place on cultivating relationships and investing in people.  In my early leadership, I focused on the organization and management of tasks, and people were secondary.  I have since reversed those components: I focus on people and relationships as primary, and the management of tasks as secondary.  Don’t misunderstand me, the tasks are still necessary and vital to the success of the organization, but I don’t let them get in the way of people (as opposed to the other way around). I believe that an organization’s success is directly connected to the people within that organization, therefore leadership needs to invest in those people; however, I feel even more strongly that people matter (and that they matter to God), and so I believe that I must care about and invest in people for that reason more than any other.

The clear conclusion for an effective leader as that you must take time for and invest in people, because people matter.  When people believe that they matter, and the leader builds a culture of relationship, the organization will benefit, and people will grow. That makes sense.

 

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The leadership challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McMaster, J. S. (2013). The Influence of Christian Education on Leadership Development. The Journal of Applied Chrisitan Leadership, 7(1), 17.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

Wheatley, M. J. (1999). Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a chaotic world (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.