4 Habits of Extraordinary Relational LEaders

Stoic. Stone cold. Heartless. We’ve all experienced leaders who seem to lack any ounce of emotion. Some environments, especially for marketplace leaders, encourage us to leave our hearts at home when we go to work.

In an attempt to be professional and respected, we close off our hearts from engaging with those around us. We don’t want to be perceived as “soft” or emotional so we wall off our hearts. This was certainly my perspective in the early days of my leadership.  

But leading without engaging our hearts leaves our leadership cold and lifeless. We inadvertently leave the people around us feeling nonhuman or guilty for having emotions of their own. When we aren’t our authentic selves, we don’t give others permission to be their authentic selves either.

Leading from our hearts requires intentionality. There are choices that we need to make every day to help us create relational leadership habits. Here are four habits I’ve found that lead to greater relationships with those you lead:

1. Slow Down to See People.

Leaders are often in positions of influence because they get stuff done. They have proven their competency and have been rewarded with greater responsibility. This means we’re often driven by task and the agenda that awaits us each day. In order to lead from the heart, we have to slow down to see people. One way that I try to do this is to play what I call the “Make Somebody’s Day” game.  

I’ve determined to approach each day with the intention of finding someone to give an extra blessing to. It might mean...

Paying for someone’s meal
Leaving a generous tip for wait staff
Giving someone a genuine compliment
Performing some other gesture of kindness.

The point is to identify an opportunity and seize it.

2. Build Time For Conversation.

Leaders lead hurried lives. Driven by the clock and our commitments, we can turn every interaction into a hurried string of instructions. Whether it’s with your family, friends, or staff, make sure that your communication with them doesn’t only revolve around what you need from them.

Do you know what your child’s greatest fear is?
Have you asked your spouse what he or she is worried about?
Do you know what personal pressure is stressing out your staff member?

The people around you are not going to feel comfortable sharing what is weighing on their hearts if you're anxious nature is dominating the conversation. Be sure you’re building in time for genuine interaction with those you lead. Arrange your schedule to leave time for conversations to breathe. Real connection happens when we slow down.

3. Have Fun With Your Team.

Let your team know you’re human. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Make room for laughter and celebration. Remember, your staff takes its cues from you. If you don’t make fun a part of your culture, no one else will. Cater lunch in celebration of a team victory. Celebrate birthdays with cake and ice cream. Determine what works for your culture, and commit to creating memorable, fun, enjoyable moments.

4. Show Appreciation.

Everyone wants to be recognized for who they are. Best-selling author and motivational speaker Tommy Newberry says, “If you want to increase the value of something in your life, take better care of it. If you want to increase the value of key relationships, treasure them...Honor them with more interest and attention. Dwell on what’s good about themthere is always something that’s great or could be great.”

The temptation in leadership is to focus on what’s not working rather than what is. Fight this temptation daily. Be on the lookout for people who are doing well, and go out of your way to acknowledge their achievements. Appreciation and affirmation are enormous trust builders. All team members want to know they matter. It’s your job as a leader to ensure that they know their work is valued.

The heart of leadership is the start of leadership. When we connect with the heart, we earn greater influence to lead.

Consider your relational leadership influence:

How are you connecting with those you lead?
Do they know you’re for them and that you value them?
Do they know how their work affects the entire team?
Do you know their stories and what inspires them and motivates them?

Every relational connection you make gives you greater opportunity to lead.

Jenni Catron

Jenni Catron is a church leader and author of the book CLOUT: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence.  You can follow Jenni on Twitter @JenniCatron. Excerpts of this article are from Jenni’s new book The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.


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