Good Leadership Means Good Relationships

What do you do when you are confronted with negative information? How one responds to criticism will say volumes about one’s ability to lead. I remember a while back reporting to a manager that was criticized by an external group of FAA inspectors, and instead of taking the criticism and improving tried to shoot holes in the detail. The manager had missed the whole point of the exercise. This to me does not demonstrate good leadership.

Leadership is critical to the advancement of an organization’s mission. If leaders are defensive, unresponsive to advice, uncommunicative, and dictatorial the organization will suffer.

I am reading a wonderful book entitled “Thriving in Leadership: Strategies for Making a Difference in Christian Higher Education.” It is a series of discussions where College Presidents are describing what they have learned about leading their institutions. I’d like to focus on a couple of comments I read this morning.

Lee F. Snyder, President of Bluffton University, discusses the importance of relationships when leading an organization. I know this is nothing new, but the information bears repeating. “Leaders must recognize that relationships matter.” There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger in organizations. The word leader presupposes that there is a follower. This means there is a relationship. This relationship will best develop when listening and care are resident. The absence of honest communication leads to a dysfunctional group where trust is nonexistent.

Snyder also states, “In leadership theory, a field that previously valued strategic toughness, experts are increasingly recognizing the significance of relationships.” I think this is a true statement, but the implication that strategic toughness is no longer valued is incorrect. Leaders need to make the difficult decisions, which is why they get paid the big bucks, this means strategic toughness is still relevant. However, like all things there is a Ying and a Yang. There is an equilibrium critical to the organizational system.

According to Snyder, “Leadership guru Margaret Wheatly, researching complex organizations as living systems, underscores the importance of relationships developed from a shared sense of purpose.” Wheatly is not the only writer to identify the importance of shared vision. Senge, Katzenbach and Smith, and others recognize the important of a shared sense of purpose, which to me is on of the most important characteristics of good leadership. Getting people to see a vision and their role in producing the new state.

“Living Systems – relationships – embody exquisite capacities to create meaning together, to communicate, and to notice what’s going on in the moment. These are capacities that give any organization its true aliveness.” I have worked for many different managers, but very few of them were what I would call a leader. The last manager I worked for at my previous employment was a true leader. She was able to get our system as a whole to see its collective purpose. We all trusted her, because she gave us a reason to.

Organizations spend millions of dollars on training managers to be leaders, yet statistics tell us that most people see their organizations as not well led. I think Snyder has hit the nail squarely on the head. Good leadership means good relationships, which is the reason I started writing this blog.

And that is my thought for the day!


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