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.”

Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation (Leadership Practice 2)

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

Reflection After Reflection, Dia, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective 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.

Last week I highlighted the first practice—Modeling what Matters. This week, we turn to the second practice—Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation.

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Serving as a foundation for authentic modeling of what matters (Practice 1), the next servant leadership practice is Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. One of the unique features of this practice is its emphasis on self-evaluation sequentially prior to the leader’s evaluation of others. While it may be easy for leaders to recognize faults and mistakes in others, leaders must first engage in in the hard work of looking in the mirror and engaging in a self-evaluative process of reflection.

The Leader’s First Look

This practice is consistent with the biblical admonition to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). Engaging in honest self-evaluation requires leader humility. It requires a capacity for self-awareness. It requires a willingness to reflect on personal faults and shortcomings which shape the organizational environment and the experience that followers have in the organization.

Being (and Growing as) Humans

Shann Ferch argued that “one of the defining characteristics of human nature is the ability to discern one’s own faults, to be broken as the result of such faults, and in response to seek a meaningful change.” Leaders are not exempt from such important human characteristics. The issue is not whether or not leaders have faults and make mistakes in their leadership practice at times. Rather, the issue is whether or not leaders have the capacity to reflect on these mistakes and engage in honest self-reflection and self-evaluation. Leaders who do this are able to learn from their mistakes and then grow as persons and as leaders.

Greater Influence Necessitates Greater Reflection

Emphasizing the importance of honest self-evaluation, research participants noted among other things the danger of leader blind spots and unquestioned assumptions. One participant noted, “Honest self-evaluation is utterly important for leaders,” and that, “the blind spots of leaders tend to be far more destructive than the blind spots of non-leaders [because leaders] … impact more people.” In other words, the scope of one’s influence matters. While honest self-evaluation is vital for all people, it is critical for those with significant influence.

Self-Evaluation and Role of Trusted Friends

Research participants further noted the dangers of unconscious self-exaltation and the drift toward arrogance and individualism. They argued that honest self-evaluation is best accomplished when trusted friends are invited to provide the leader with feedback on their growth edges. In addition to effecting the leader’s personal growth, the absence of honest self-evaluation on the part of leaders decreases the capacity of teams to change and attain goals in an effective manner.

Looking in the Mirror 

It’s one thing to read about self-reflection and self-evaluation as a leader. It is another thing altogether to actually do the work of honest self-evaluation.

Have you taken time recently to pause for self-reflection as a leader? How are you evaluating your engagement with those on your team? Are you doing this evaluation on your own, or have you invited a trusted friend to provide honest feedback so that you may better see your leader blind spots?

Though pausing for self-reflection and self-evaluation may feel like you are simply not getting your work done, the research study that backs these reflections prioritizes leader self-evaluation as a first-order priority for leaders. Pausing for reflection and evaluation allows you the opportunity to make mid-course corrections in your leadership, contribute to higher levels of follower job-satisfaction, and contribute to the increased effectiveness of your team.

Take time for an honest look in the mirror today.

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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.”

Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

Humanity, Love, Respect (B.S. Wise, Flickr)

Photo Credit: Humanity, Love, Respect, by B.S. Wise, Flickr

The challenges leaders face in developing motivation and empowerment among followers are many.

There may be challenges in the interpersonal or dyadic relationship between individual leaders and followers. There may be challenges within the team or group environment at any of the forming, storming, norming, or performing stages. There may be challenges at the level of organizational systems within which leaders and followers are embedded. Or, there may be challenges external to the organization such as a difficult economic environment straining follower and leader expectations of performance.

Beginning with Leader Self-Reflection

While each of these levels may be challenges to motivation and empowerment, leaders should begin by considering their own role in leadership challenges. In a previous post I argued that Effective Leadership = Effective Self-Leadership. When leaders face challenges in motivating and empowering followers it is important to first look to themselves as leaders—to begin seeing how they personally may have contributed to demotivating followers. The Bible makes this priority personal: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3).

As a leader,
are you prone to look first to the proverbial speck in a follower’s eye,
or the log in our own eye?

Avoiding the Fundamental Attribution Error

In challenging times it is easy to look to others or our environment and assign fault to them. This tendency is described by some as the fundamental attribution error or actor-observer bias. But thoughtful leaders are self-reflective leaders. They resist the fundamental attribution error and consider how they personally may be contributing to a problem and how followers may be impacted by their environment. They are leaders willing to look first to their contribution to a situation and work out from there to other relevant contributing factors.

Desiring Personal Humility

In light of such logic, we might argue that the greatest challenge to motivating and empowering followers is me and you. It is about self-reflection and self-leadership first. Jim Collin’s notes this point in his book Good to Great. At the heart of Collins’ work is the concept of level five leadership. Collins describes Level Five Leaders as having a unique blend of both professional will and personal humility. With such a blend, a leader has the self-confidence and self-efficacy to own that they do not have all of the answers and that they have less control than they may have originally thought. They also are willing to look into the mirror and see what their contribution is to the lack of motivation among followers.

Pressing Forward with Personal Humility and Follower Motivation

As leaders engage in personal reflection, embrace a spirit of humility, and acknowledge their own contribution to challenges … powerful result emerges. Rather than thinking less of leaders, followers generally grow in their respect for leaders who demonstrate authenticity and a willingness to own their part in challenges. Along this path, leaders begin by truly recognizing where actual power lies—with the wider organizational membership and not just leaders. From this place, leaders are able to motivate followers in authentic and meaningful ways. This motivation may take the form of genuinely valuing and developing people. It may also take the form of channeling followers to orient their attention on vision and performance that matters to them and the organization.

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Leader self-reflection and humility is a key starting point in making such motivation and empowerment come to life. Have you seen positive examples of leader humility in your organizations? What impact did this have on the community and the overall motivation experienced by organizational members?