What is Relational Leadership? Some define it as leadership by consensus (also derisively known as “Pooled Ignorance”). Others think Relational Leadership is about creating good relationships in an organization (of course, “good for whom” is always nebulous). Still others think Relational Leadership is about playing politics, paying attention to what others want in order to get what you want.
The newest definition I’ve seen is an application of Daniel Goleman’s excellent insights from Emotional Intelligence to the leadership process. The Relational Leader, according to some, is a social leader. However, none of these definitions get at the heart of real Relational Leadership.
Relational Leadership is the application of leadership scholar Burns’ (1978) insight that leaders and followers are in a relationship together. This is significant because it recognizes that leadership can be done without charismatic power or influence. The work of the Relational Leader is to mobilize people to address the need for positive change by connecting with the values and beliefs of the people, thus elevating the entire leadership enterprise to a level above influence, power, position or manipulation.
The Relational Leader is also an ethical leader. In other words, she connects with the values and beliefs of her people.
In the church, the values and beliefs of people are explicitly stated in the theology of the congregation, a statement of faith, a creed, or a confession. This is not to say that people carry it out real well, just that the organization agrees “these are the things we believe in.”
It’s a little different for business. In a secular organization, organizational leadership studies identify three “levels” of cultural belief: artifacts, espoused values, and basic assumptions (Schein,1992). Nevertheless, Relational Leadership in this sector is still about the leader connecting with the values and beliefs of the followers.
Part Two answers the question: What does Relational Leadership actually look like?