The Power of Relationships in Leadership
My perception on relationships changed many years ago when I took a careful look at hundreds of people walking on a busy street in Lagos, a state in Nigeria. Immediately, it occurred to me that I might never see many of these people again till they depart this world. Wow! This became a ‘light-bulb’ moment in my life. I suddenly realised the privilege to have people in my life.
However, I decided to write this blog after watching a TEDtalk on how close relationships leads to good life. The speaker, Robert Waldinger described some of the secrets to happiness in a recent study which followed two cohorts of men for 75 years starting from 1938. In his talk, Waldinger pointed out three keys about happiness: Close relationships, quality of the relationships and stable, supportive marriages.According to him, the clearest message from these years of studies is that “relationships make us healthier and happier not work, money or being famous”.
Intrigued with these findings, I sought for more information. In his book, The Broken Heart, James Lynch says, “Most of the people I deal with have at the root of their physical problems the problem of loneliness. They may well be living with someone, or indeed in a busy, bustling family atmosphere but they do not know what it is to experience a close relationship. The lonely are twice as likely to suffer physical problems as those who enjoy a warm relationship with at least one other person”. Dr Bernard Steinzor in his book, The Healing Partnership, says, “The person who feels completely alone and has lost hope of a relationship will become a patient in the wards of a mental hospital or bring their life to an end through suicide”.
As I ponder on these facts, I see the urgent need for leaders to write a new story with the people they work with. There must be a paradigm shift from the era of command and control to that of understanding based on deep human existence.Leaders must be determined to create healthy relationships with others. The reality is that leaders cannot survive outside this because our contemporary world faces more uncertainties than ever before.
Why are relationships important to leaders?
A healthy relationship gives heart to leadership. I read the story of someone who was being introduced to a group of company engineers. The person was warned that these people have ‘heads of cement’ but he cheerfully remarked that “it didn’t matter.Since they have hearts, he would rather connect with that than their heads”.
When we relate with people, it shows we care about them. The world is so unsettled that many people live in fear and social isolation. Loneliness is a killer despite the facade put up by many people outside their homes. A recent newspaper report in Scotland, where I reside, shows that loneliness is as damaging to physical health, as poverty and housing problems.
In addition, people are more willing to engage with us when we relate with them. A 2015 survey reveals that over 70% of workers were unengaged in the United Kingdom. The engineering image we carry of ourselves has led to organisational lives where we believe we can ignore the deep realities of human existence.This is alarming since it becomes very difficult for unengaged workers to achieve organisational goals. Connections from leaders would bridge this gap.
Relationships tap into the uniqueness of every member of the team. It galvanises energies from these differences to achieve the greater mission of the organisation.
We fulfil our original purpose in life when we relate with one another. This is because we were hardwired to connect. As a matter of fact, it forms part of our DNA. A life of isolation is dysfunctional with its terrible consequences.
The world is becoming lonelier and lonelier with the advent of numerous technological gadgets. Our several social media platforms are compounding the problem of isolation. This is making us see each other as machines and unreal, not as human beings with hearts. It is important to recognise that people never behave like machines. People have deep worries, emotions, health crises, spiritual questions, family problems, financial issues etc. It takes creating platforms for relationships to get to know all these. We cannot ignore all these or organise them away and expect those who work with us to put in their best. We need one another to achieve the vision of the teams and organisations.
Now, we talk about intelligent machines. A study by researchers at Oxford university and Deloitte shows that about 35% of current jobs in the UK are at risk of computerisation over the next 20 years. This means we are going start having machines working alongside human beings. This would lead to fewer interactions between people.Trying to be an effective leader in this machine-world would be quite exhausting!
Dr John C Maxwell in his book, ” TouchPoints for Leaders” stresses that people are created as relationship beings, and a leader is not an exception. Leadership is not simply about getting things done, but getting things done through, with, and for people. Relationships, therefore, are a central element of leadership. In many ways, people are the product of all we do. As leaders, we all have a role to play in adding values to lives by developing robust and intentional relationships with our families, friends and the people we lead.
Let’s begin the new year by been kind to others, love them, forgive easily, be tenderhearted, show respect, trust them and make allowance for each others fault.Look out for someone you have not heard from or seen for a very long time. Take the first step to say hello to your neighbour. I understand some of these relationships could turn sour however this does not weaken the arguments for relationships that would make the world a better place.
All the best as you start a new year!