Relational Leadership (Part Two)

What is Relational Leadership? We sketched out a definition of Relational Leadership in our last post. Relational Leadership, simply put, is the recognition that leaders and followers are in relationship to one another. Good leaders must therefore connect with the values and motivations of followers. 

Ok, but what does Relational Leadership look like in the real world? 

Here’s an example of what it is not. 

The financial board of a small local church was sifting through the bills when they received some all too common news. The month’s health insurance bill for Ken, the new music minister, was almost double what it had been. The cause was not surprising, he and his wife just had their first baby boy. The board launch into a spirited discussion of how tight the budget was and that “something needs to be done tonight” or the new bill would continue to “bust the budget” all year long. 

A discussion was held about what the music minister’s contract said, revealing that the church never mentioned a dollar amount for health care, only that they would pay for it. That led to stories around the table of how all the corporations in the area were requiring employees to share in health care costs. After 20 minutes of these stories, people shook their heads bemoaning the cost of health care and determined the young minister needed to “share the burden” of health care costs. The portion determined was a significant percentage of the overall salary. 

How would Relational Leadership critique this situation? 

The board determined it was their job as leaders to allocate and decide. Their conception of leadership was about power and authority, not relationship. Therefore, despite a nine month pregnancy, they were “surprised” when the health insurance bill came due. They never saw themselves in a relationship with the minister. 

The board made the decision to change Ken’s contract without getting any input from him. Legalities aside, in doing so, the church violated its own values. Although it emphasized  “everyone has voice as we serve God together,” there was no voice for Ken. Second, they  treated Ken like a child instead of a partner. A Relational Leader recognizes that leader and follower are both responsible for carrying out the goals of the organization. Ken wasn’t given that chance. Third, the verdict to significantly dock Ken’s salary was made one night at one meeting without warning. This would be a blow to the motivation and morale of anyone receiving such news. 

This top-down approach to “leadership” is the opposite of Relational Leadership, yet is prevalent in a good many churches and small organizations. How can Relational Leadership be instituted without “blowing up the church?” See Part Three.

4 thoughts on “Relational Leadership (Part Two)

  1. Dr. Loyd, I always love your articles, and this one is no exception. What a great example and explanation of the destructive power of top-down leadership. If only organizations in the public and private sectors could embrace this concept and utilize it in all functions.

  2. Wow – that sounds so close to real life…probably because it was. I serve on several boards, and see exactly what you mean here. Most of the time I think we do get to the point of relational leadership, but now I am definitely going to think about this the next time a debatable situation comes up.

    At my company, we have a very strong value that says for every ambiguous business situation we face, ask yourself “what is the right thing to do?” I know it sounds over-simplified, but it opens up conversations in tough situations among the leadership. We peel away what that really means – the right thing – and forces us to examine our motives.

    Interesting stuff!

  3. (This is Travis, by the way)
    Excellent claims. This kind of story seems to reflect the sense that there is a business side to life that is to be divided from casual life. How sad that the relationships set forth in the ministry of the church have the un-weightiness of the latter – my guess is that most of these folks had relationships with Ken, but when the question of money/contracts arises, that relationship is set aside for more pressing matters. This was often my sense in board meetings. The Gospel becomes faint when talking about money.

    There is something odd here too, that I don’t think I can articulate clearly: While the board likely had a “good relationship” with Ken outside of “business,” there is automatically the assumption that Ken will only respond selfishly if the problem were to be presented to him. Suddenly, it is the board vs. Ken. Mix in the weightiness of business over relationships, and you have a Hobbesian view of human nature: Love and mercy are nice decorations, but when you get down to reality, everyone is in a war with everyone else. The love preached in the church is simply idealistic wrapping paper as well. Truth is declared in the business meetings, fantasy on Sunday mornings.

    1. Very well put my friend. Our “Christian values” are set aside as we deal with the “real world.” Ugh. And you are so right about the Hobbesian view of human nature, at total odds with 1 Corinthinas 13 where love assumes the best about those in community.

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