Tag Archive for Relationship

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.


My Simple Diagram of Leadership

A number of years ago, in my doctoral studies, I took a course called Issues in Leadership Theory. Throughout the course, we, the students, were assigned essays on various theories, ideas, and characteristics of leadership, with which we were expected to interact and then write reflective responses. The goal was to build a broader understanding of leadership and of the effective practice of leadership.

I was taking this course while serving as the administrator of a K-12 school, one that had experienced some great difficulties and needed to be revitalized. I was on the ground floor, in the middle of leadership activity, trying to build and/or rebuild momentum, enrollment, programs, morale, and even (literally) a school building. There were many issues, needs, and deficiencies that I was wrestling with (like, how to start a hot lunch program, how to expand brand recognition in the community with no advertising budget or director of development, and how to attract new excellent teachers, with a persuasive vision, while retaining the existing excellent teachers who were resistant to change). Although I did not fully realize at the time the extent to which it was happening, I was actually in the process of developing my leadership style and principles of practice. And so, over the duration of that leadership course, as I read, interacted, and responded to the assignments, while at the same time implementing and learning the practical application of those lessons in my job, the ideas that resonated with me began to come together in my mind to form my own personal theory of leadership.

As I put those ideas together in a way that seemed to make sense to me, I began to see leadership as a process that occurs within a context, which I visually illustrate below in a diagram called Jeff’s Simple Diagram of Leadership (I like diagrams and illustrations). The basic concept is this: In any situation, there are leaders and followers. Sometimes who they are can change, but both of the individuals/groups are necessary. The leader must have knowledge of the context/environment in which the leader and followers exist (present). He must also have knowledge of the organizational history (past) and organizational vision (future). With this knowledge, the leader engages in the process that is a continuing cycle of analyzing past, present, and future in order to move people and the organization toward a desired growth, change, or direction.

Now that time has passed since I first formulated these ideas, I believe that this simple diagram is a very accurate picture, and in many ways was even prophetic, of how I have learned to lead. I have come to understand and value the extreme importance of story and culture, both in organizational history and in understanding the people with whom the leader works, and therefore have learned the value of listening and asking questions (past). I have experienced the importance of the role of relationship in the context and environment in which the leaders and followers interact, and in the process have developed my own relational skills (present). I have learned that I have the ability to see “the big picture” of what the organization ought to be and to communicate this in an understandable way (future). Along the way, I have discovered one of my greatest leadership strengths is the ability to make connections between these three – past, present, and future – in way that makes sense to people. And now as I look back, I can see that in each organization in which I have worked, my leadership has followed this pattern and process and has resulted in significant and positive change.

In that particular school in which I was first putting these ideas together, I must admit that I made many mistakes. For example, this is where I learned the importance of taking time to listen to people and understand culture before initiating change (by making the mistake of making changes too quickly without first understanding the environment). However, I grew in both my knowledge and practice of leadership, resulting in a number of significant positive changes, including, among other things: doubling of enrollment; restoration of financial stability; initiation of a large scale building program; establishment of a school board, a hot lunch program, an after school program, and a parent-teacher organization; development and expansion of honors and advanced academic programs; and establishment of a student internship program. In a sense, it was a practicing lab in which my particular leadership ability and skills were nurtured and grew.

Since that time in my life, I have further developed effective leadership skills and practice that have enabled me to be an agent of change in several other schools and organizations. I have personally identified many of the basic principles that underscore my approach, which include principles such as: learn history and culture; people matter to God, so it is important to build relationships and care about people; see the big picture; recognize God’s sovereignty; know that to influence change, you have to change the way people think; communicate; empower; serve; be willing to do things differently. Over time, I have also seen my simple diagram of leadership emerge and remain as the crux of my personal theory of leadership, with the three key words of story, relationship, and change reflecting my leadership.

I have found what works well for me, and it involves some fundamental ideas that should be true for every leader, but it also is expressed in a way that matches who I am. I would encourage you to do the same – identify the core leadership principles that matter, and learn how to package and use them in a way that best incorporates your strengths, so that you can become the best leader you can be, by being yourself.

Jeff's Simple Diagram of Leadership










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.