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How to Become a More Relational Leader: 8 Simple Ways

I speak and write a lot about Triple-Threat Leadership which posits that there are three indispensable leadership skills, one of which is “fostering relationships.”  After teaching Triple-Threat Leadership at a conference, someone once asked me how he could become a more relational leader.  This is a very common question for leaders who are driven to accomplish results and often feel like they don’t have time to slow down for people.  Fostering relationships doesn’t mean that a leader has to be intimate friends with everyone he/she leads.  Rather it means that everyone being led feels valued.  Below are a few practices that can help you practice what I call “Symbolic Relational Leadership”, which equips you to value people without having to become “close” to them all. Symbolic Relational Leadership equips you to make the people feel valued even when you aren’t able to personally touch them.

  1. Do for one when you can’t do for all – this is the opposite of the “If I can’t do it for everyone, I won’t do it for everyone” rule.  That rule makes everyone you lead feel undervalued.  Instead, do kind things for the few people you can help, and tell your entire team that this will be normal.  It’s not about playing favorites, its about helping whenever you can rather than not helping in the name of “fairness”.
  2. Remember people’s names – It’s amazing how people feel when you remember who they are.  Learn the names of the people you lead and they’ll believe that they matter to you.
  3. Drive-by-complimenting – learn the art of the quick compliment, but make sure it’s genuine.  Don’t say “nice shoes” to everyone on the team and especially don’t say it if you don’t mean it.  Rather, look for opportunities to pay authentic compliments in 60 seconds or less.
  4. Catch people doing things right – People feel used when all a leader does is come down on them when they fail.  To combat this, be sure to offer praise every time you see or hear of a team member doing something well.  Even praising the little things, like showing up on time to a meeting, can go a long way.
  5. Public praise – whenever you have a team or group together, take time to praise a few people publicly.  This communicates tremendous value to the person being praised, and it tells other team members that you will praise them whey they do well. Thus, the entire group will be inspired to do better.
  6. Small gifts – find out what people on your team like.  If someone loves chocolate, give them some from time-to-time.  If someone is a movie fanatic, a couple of movie passes is a tremendous gift. A $5 gift card to a local coffee shop is an almost-universally-loved gift. However, make sure these are gifts and not rewards. A gift is completely free with no-strings-attached. A reward is only given when someone has earned it.  Giving free gifts says “I value you…period.”
  7. Say “thank you” – Saying thanks demonstrates humility and honor.  Let people know that you appreciate their work.
  8. Walk among the troops – Don’t be aloof with the people you lead.  Rather, make sure that you are among them from time-to-time.

These are just some of my ideas.  Got any more you think should be added?