The Power of Relational Leadership

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” – Winston Churchill

Commonwealth Dignitaries were in the room from all over the world. Guests from the Royal Family, members of visiting delegations, politicians and notable figures from across the globe had arrived to the extravagant dinner. It was set in the usual state dinner ceremony with lavish place settings and silver dishes and cutlery.  The evening was winding down.  Winston Churchill spotted a distinguish guest across the room stealthily stealing a silver salt shaker from the table.  He had slipped it into his pocket.  Winston promptly took the matching pepper shaker and slipped it into his own pocket.  He approached the gentleman and pulled out the pepper shaker and put it on the table.  In a sheepish way he whispered to the guest, “I think they’ve seen us. Perhaps we had better put them back.”  The dignitary flashed an embarrassed smile and did the same.

What could have escalated into an international incident was gracefully handled by the extraordinary statesman.  Winston knew that leadership wasn’t just about giving orders and enforcing rules.  True leadership demands connection and shared experiences.  He knew the best way to teach and persuade was from the shared trench, not the ivory tower.  In our increasingly polarized world, it is easy to sit at our place settings, casting judgements and issuing decrees.  You may be right, but how will it land?  Humans have difficulty hearing even good moral principles and science when they can’t relate to the messenger.  There is an old adage, “speak the truth in love.”  We fail to listen to each other because we fail to love each other.  Winston’s act of love had a cascading effect.  It reversed a crime, provided a dignified recovery for the guest and taught us all an important lesson in leadership.

I don’t know about you, but some people frustrate me.  It seems I try my best to convince them but they don’t seem to listen.  How can they ignore the facts?  Data doesn’t seem to matter to them.  They don’t respond.  I have come to realize that my impatience and unloving approach is not productive or effective.  I need to change.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Are you trying to persuade or convince someone?  Have you cast aside friends, family or co-workers because they seem unreasonable or unreachable?  As humans, we tend to dismiss anything that doesn’t come from our tribe.  That further polarizes all of us, our mental models and the ability to relate and work with each other. How do we overcome that?  Like Winston’s example, we have to go to where the others are, listen to them, learn from them and relate to them. 

This week, think about the opportunities you have to make an impact on others.  In what ways can you better connect with others, learning from them and teaching?  We are better together than apart.  Let’s do what we can to speak truth in love.  Strive to know other viewpoints, seek to understand and grow together in a positive way.