Relational Leadership – A Lasting Investment

By Clarence Bradbury

Over 300 types of leadership have been identified in the literature of recent years.  One of these is Relational Leadership.  Maybe the term is redundant, since leadership is essentially relational.  It is an exchange in which we seek to influence, and be influenced, toward shared values such as common purpose, process, direction and vision, inclusiveness, empowerment, support and accountability.  Relational leaders are real, approachable, down to earth, at home with themselves and tuned in to others.

Just this week I experienced a company that exhibited anything but relational leadership.  I was in my optometrist’s office 5 minutes early for an appointment.  I was greeted (sort of) and asked to take a seat.  I was given no information such as reading material, restroom location or, more importantly, how long I might anticipate waiting.  After 25 minutes (a considerable display of patience for my get on with it personality) I asked the attendants, both of whom were enjoying a chat and a little snack, if they could update me.  The response: “It won’t be long now; he’s running a little behind this morning”.   That’s no big deal – seeing the doctor on schedule is not an exact science.  But in this office, I felt like the object of a transaction skewed toward the host, while the customer was sidelined.

The 80/20 Pareto Principle could easily move this particular office from mediocre to exceptional.  Investing 20% more effort in our relationships will bless us with an 80% return in personal satisfaction and corporate success.  Jack Welch constantly declared,  It’s all about people. He decided to make people GE’s core competency.  He enlisted and advanced great people, provided them with great resources and then got out of their way so that they could achieve great results for the company.  Florence Littauer claims, “It takes so little to be above average” (

Relational leadership is intrinsic to spiritual leadership.  Christian spirituality is more than mastering the disciplines of spiritual formation.  It’s possible to be highly “spiritual” and, at the same time, come across as personally aloof, even oppressive, toward others.  If relational leadership is about opening up authentic, life-giving relational networks between individuals and among people, then the marks of Christ will always be evident in our treatment of one another.

Relational leaders put personal insecurities and irrational fears aside in order to gather around them the kind of people who have the capacity to achieve a shared vision.  They also invest generously in their circle of relationships, and this winning strategy yields an expanding culture of trust.  Linda and I have seen this in Ben, a friendly, energetic carpenter who has completed several projects in our new home.  Besides coming from a Christian home, Ben apprenticed under a master carpenter who modeled excellence of character and craft.  Ben’s presence and work ethic over a period of many months have earned him our respect, friendship and return invitation for any future projects that may arise.  He starts each work visit with a smile and a genuine greeting, then goes to work, checking in as necessary when issues arise or clarity is needed.

That’s the approach I desire in all my responsibilities and relationships.

  • It adds value to others by making the effort to know them and their needs
  • It shows respect for others, not marching in and changing what they have built up, just because “I think my ideas are better” or “I’m the new sheriff”
  • It exhibits honesty and integrity, avoiding pretense of any kind
  • It patiently allows time for relationships to grow.  Respect and loyalty are not automatic
  • It gives more than it takes away, sparing no effort to enrich the lives and ensure the success of others


What about you?  Can you think of a time when you were treated as a non-person – invisible, unrecognized, unheard, just a number on a paper tag?

How did that make you feel, what thoughts came to mind?

Contrast that with a positive experience when you were recognized, valued, included.

How different were your thoughts and feelings during that experience?

What do these contrasting experiences teach you about your own behavior as a leader and follower?  Are you for real?  Does your behavior build an environment of trust?

In your relationships, do you seek to impress, to impact, or to influence others?

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