Understanding Relational Skills (Leadership Practice 6)

by Chuck Patch, Flickr

by Chuck Patch, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The second grouping of servant leadership practices presented in the model emphasizes the importance of understanding the priority of people. In this second cluster of servant leadership practices, leadership behaviors associated with effective teams include: (1) valuing and appreciating, (2) creating a place for individuality, and (3) understanding relational skills. This week we take on Leadership Practice 6 — Understanding Relational Skills.

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

This second cluster, which is focused on understanding the priority of people, ends with the servant leadership practice of Understanding Relational Skills. Knowing how to get along with people is basic to quality relationships, and it is the basis of quality leadership practice as well. Although this may seem simplistic, understanding relational skills is key for leading well in the team context.

Relational Skills and Emotional Intelligence

In recent decades, leadership researchers have identified the importance of emotional intelligence for leadership practice. At the core of emotional intelligence are skills that support intrapersonal and interpersonal engagement. In his discussion of emotional intelligence, Daniel Goleman emphasized factors such as empathy and social skills, premised on self-awareness. These factors provide a basis for effective relational skills. Self-awareness leading to an awareness of and responsiveness to the needs of others provides a platform on which effective leaders may appropriately humanize the leader-follower relational engagement.

Self-Awareness, Empathy, and Authentic Listening

The themes of self-awareness, empathy, and authentic listening were also highlighted by the research participants in my study on the topic, noting these as important characteristics of effective relational skills. One participant noted that empathetic communication, personal connection, selective vulnerability, and attention to what motivates followers are all critical relational skills. Other participants emphasized items such as:

  • The importance of authentic listening,
  • A commitment to fairness and equality,
  • The ability to tolerate and accept appropriate differences,
  • The importance of knowing oneself well in order to relate authentically with others,
  • The embodiment of confidence blended with the ability to see future possibilities and communicate the most appropriate path to get there
  • Creating a sense of safety and support for followers,
  • Demonstrating care and kindness,
  • Reinforcing a commitment to the working relationship, and
  • Maintaining an open and approachable posture toward followers.

All of these themes comprise key relational skills that help foster positive leader-follower relationships.

Although leaders at times may like to work in the background simply dealing with systems and structures, engaging organizational members, team members, and direct reports with relational intelligence is vital. How are you nurturing your relational skills? How are you engaging followers with wisdom and a spirit of understanding?

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

9 Effective Leadership Practices

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Number Nine, by Mario Klingemann, Flickr

Servant leadership is a good idea. The core of servant leadership is about leaders placing follower needs at the highest priority level. Most would agree this is a good idea. The question many do raise, however, is whether or not this good idea is also effective?

Thankfully social science research methods can help us. One of the benefits of social science research is its capacity to confirm the utility or effectiveness of practices that are inherently valid philosophically or biblically.

Good Ideas that Work

For instance we do not need research to inform us that humility is important for individuals and leaders; this is an argument that may be made practically, philosophically and biblically. The validity and importance of humility may be argued apart from research. However, research can come alongside logic and experience to confirm the utility or effectiveness of an idea like humility. This is what was found by Jim Collins in his research on Level Five Leaders. Not only is leader humility ethically-good and biblically-consistent as an idea—an argument that may be made biblically, philosophically, and practically—Jim Collins found through research that leader humility is also effective.

Servant Leadership: An Good Idea Whose Time Has Come

A similar argument may be made for understanding servant leadership. The importance and validity of servant-oriented leadership practices can be argued ethically, morally, philosophically, practically, and biblically apart from questions of its utility and effectiveness. However, it is powerful when leadership practices that are ethically-good and biblically-consistent are also found to be effective.

While servant leadership is a good and values-based model of leadership practice—and this alone is enough for leaders to utilize servant leadership practices—it is also helpful to know that servant leadership is effective. And indeed it is. Servant leadership is not only a good idea. It works.

9 Effective Leadership Practices

So what characterizes servant leadership? What leader behaviors are consistent with servant leadership practice?

Here are 9 core leadership practices that I’ve identified as not only good ideas, but also as effective.

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

In the coming weeks, I’ll unpack each of these practices and provide reflections both on why they are important and how leaders may use them to effectively guide their followers.

For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”