There is a plethora of research on what characteristics define the truly great leader. Integrity, honesty, vulnerability, vision are all descriptors of the outstanding leader. There is also a prevailing belief (in which I concur), that you cannot ascend to the highest level of leadership without being relational. Relationships matter! Gifted leaders, ones who are well-respected, trusted and liked, understand that relationships must also be authentic. Weak or passing fad leaders confuse authenticity with the art pleasing the people. Pleasing people is more often about self gain, about getting votes or being liked (although those might be great end results). Authentic relationships are formed by leaders who do the right thing, make tough decisions and have difficult conversations.
The challenges of effective leadership are immense. To paraphrase Chris Lowney from his book Heroic Leadership, it is not easy for the leader to set the course, get everyone onside with the direction and then manoeuvre in and around the barriers that exist to ascertain the preferred future. Getting people onside or better phrased as committed to the cause requires authentic relationships. The leader’s ability to build effective and authentic relationships with one’s employees,colleagues and the general community is simply non-negotiable.
I highlight the word “authentic” because too often relationships are viewed as one way, shallow and superficial. In other words the default becomes to please others. Employee groups or leaders sometimes revert to the position that if you truly cared about this relationship you would do “X”. This is simply not authentic. Effective and authentic relationships are mutually beneficial and based on respect. It is not centered on getting your own way and is not structured with the mentality of win/lose. It is also not without struggle, tough decisions and disappointment. Authentic relationships value the messiness of the interactions and understand the complexity of leadership life.
It is crucial for leaders to recognize that it is impossible to please everyone. Any decision made will be have people lined up on both sides of the fence. It is a no win scenario and therefore should be avoided at all costs. However, authentic relationships allows leaders to make tough decisions without major fallout. Pleasing people is fleeting and superficial at best. It requires no strong and enduring commitment which is why these leaders typically don’t have a long and succesful shelf life and never create a legacy!
Leaders- be authentic in your relationships rather than simply desiring to please people. In the long run of your leadership career and your organization’s health, it is superior!