Our 5th Anniversary! A look back at positional vs. relational leadership
As a leader you have a choice; be the reason that they show up or the reason they run away.
There are a ton of leadership books and theories out there, but at the end of the day, leadership falls into one of two camps; positional leadership and relational leadership. One gets you a short-term win, while the other provides you a path for long-term success.
Positional leaders rely on the power of job titles to get the job done through others. Think of any military in the world and they all follow this premise: You follow me because it says that you have to follow me.
Relationships are very transactional in nature with these leaders as well. You work and do what I ask and in return, I pay you a salary or wage. Because they see their workforce in this way, they don’t put much effort to build relationships and get to know those around them. Often focused on hitting a goal at all costs or satisfying their own ego, it doesn’t matter too much to them if you stay or go. one of their main concerns, when someone leaves, is a loss in productivity and the inconvenience caused by bringing someone else on.
This person heavily values building lasting, meaningful working relationships. They are aware of building a commodity up in a relationship with a peer or colleague before making a withdrawal or asking for a favor. It doesn’t matter what their title says on a card on their desk, they just want everyone to succeed; the company, themselves, and you.
For a relational leader, how they get things done is just as important as getting to the goal.
A relational leader doesn’t pull power from their title or standing, instead, they lean heavily on empathy, the praise of their team, self-awareness, and other skills like influencing, and active listening.
So why aren’t more leaders relational?
This is a simple question that has a more complex answer because it depends on the person and the circumstances that they grew up in. Here are a few reasons why some leaders are more positional and why they never change to a relational approach.
- They are modeling what they experienced. Your first boss is a very influential person in your career. They set the expectation that you have for all your future leaders and they play a large role in how you lead yourself once you advance in your career. Leaders can carry over these bad habits along their own careers and may not even realize it. They may also believe that they paid their dues so others need to do so as well.
- They have a sense of arrival. Some leaders fall into the trap of arriving at their career goal and feeling like they are are owed something.
- They don’t have a people-focused skill set. Some leaders simply don’t have those soft skills that make a great leader. The trap comes from thinking that they don’t have people-focused skills because of their personality type. You don’t have to be super outgoing or an A-type personality to be a great leader. Some of the strongest leaders I know are more reserved and thoughtful in their approach.
- They may feel that leading relationally is weak. Some leaders still believe that you should keep a hard line between your work and life and that leaders who try to lead with a relational approach are weak. “We are here to get the job done and that’s it.” The problem with this approach is that the workforce is changing quickly and leaving this leadership thought behind it.
Tips to becoming more relational
Every leader can become more rational with their approach to people. Think about some areas that you can improve in with others.
- Slow down. As a high-performing leader, this caught me early in my career. I was always in a hurry to get things done. Slow down to spend that quality time with others. Get to know those around you as you work on the same project. Take time to get to know those around you that are just acquaintances. Sometimes this is catching up before jumping into work and other times it’s connecting along the way.
- Listen more than you talk. Give others a chance to share their opinion and feel like they are being heard. It helps gain a bigger perspective on the topic and strengthens the relationship with the other person as well.
- Celebrate wins both big and small. Look for opportunities to celebrate those around you and the projects or milestones that they are working towards. Bonus points for celebrating your team’s personal accomplishments as well!
- Be compassionate. Show others care and empathy in your leadership. Put yourself in their shows and give them the benefit of the doubt before making a judgment call on the person or situation.
Your organization can have the greatest values, wittiest slogans, and heartfelt mission statements, and it won’t matter if its leaders chose to lead by position only. Lean into the power of relational leadership and get the most out of your team. Model great behavior, continue to craft those soft skills, and never stop in your journey to being a better leader.
Be the leader that you always wanted to serve under.
Make a better tomorrow.