Over the last year, one aspect of leadership I’ve been reflecting on is relational leadership. In the early chapters of Jim Collins’ BE 2.0, he speaks to this area a bit.

In the end, MOST people want WHAT they want, WHEN they want it, MOST of the time. And this is why many organizations operate through the lens of “transactional leadership.” The word ‘transaction’ in its most basic form is defined by American-Webster’s dictionary as; “an exchange of goods, services or funds.” In the workplace, funds are exchanged for services. Or, in other words, money for work. As long as the employee does the work and the employer pays for the work, everyone is satisfied and continues forward with the endeavor. At the farthest extreme, everyone looks out for their own needs and desires through the transactional lens.

On the other side of the spectrum is relational leadership. In the organizational realm, at the furthest extreme, owners/leaders spend inordinate resources (time/energy/money) supporting the needs and hopes of team members AND team members bring their very best in serving the organization’s needs.

In organizations where the work is purely a transactional exchange, people are focused on meeting their own needs and in doing so will at best bring their HEADS to work.

But in healthy organizations with a high degree of relational leadership and thereby connection, everyone benefits from one another and in turn brings not only their HEADS to work but also their HEARTS.

Before I share a couple of ways to edge closer to the relational side of the spectrum, let me acknowledge that no organization or leader is entirely one or the other. Even the most transactional leaders will have some level of connection to their staff, even if it’s only in the most dynamic of life’s moments. And every highly relational leader will operate through the lens of transactional exchange from time to time.

That being said, here are a few ways to grow as a relational leader:

1. Help with the Dirty Work

We call these situations “sloppy joe’s,” and every organization has them whether it’s a scheduling problem, an upset customer, or an after-hours situation. Whenever it looks, smells, and feels like a situation that everyone would want to run away from, let the team know in word and deed that they are always welcome to bring them to you. In the end, whether it makes sense to grab the baton, address it together, or provide some direction and let them attack, it’s mission-critical to send the messages that, “I’ll never ask you to clean up a mess alone” and “I’m not too busy, fancy or special to avoid this kind of a situation.”

2. Celebrate Key Moments

From handwritten birthday and work anniversary notes to recognizing kids’ birthdays and graduations, there’s something powerful that happens within us when we connect in this way, and it means so much to our teams. Finding uncommon moments beyond birthdays to celebrate is even better. It could be their 1,000th or 5,000th day at the company or the 5th anniversary of someone’s adoption, or a team member’s 50th sale. Find ways to celebrate people for who they are and for what they do within the organization.

3. Tell People Why You’d Hire Them Again

From humor to diligence to ambition to creativity, the more specific, the better. It’s one thing to interview someone and offer them a job. It’s something entirely different to look back and say that after nine months or 14 years that you’d hire them again because of who they are and the impact they’ve made on the team and company.

What are some other ways to help shift from transactional leadership to building deep and lasting relationships with people?

Cheers to building connections and sending the message that people matter in the way we lead!!

Josh Block

Josh Block

Josh Block is a Michigan native, husband, father of two, speaker, company president, and leadership advocate. He believes that healthy leaders, thriving teams and fulfilling work carry remarkable power to transform people and families.

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