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.