Leadership is Relationship

Getting to the essence, the definition of ‘leadership’, is perhaps the Holy Grail of modern business and management literature. Everyone seems interested in what the key is, what the core is, what aspect–when given the right amount of investment and expertise–will unlock leadership success.

Although this blog focuses on followership, scanning down the Blog Post Index will reveal a number of posts that give primary view to understanding some aspect of leadership. You’ll find “A Leader Is…“, “A Leader is Best…?“, a series on Leadership Lessons, “Leadership Ltd. Inc.“, & “Leadership: Access, Not Vision” (among others). How about one more?

For me, the answer to “what is leadership?” is fairly simple. Leadership is relationship. Conveniently, I answer a similar question about followership in the same way. Followership is relationship.

While it’s tempting to say that leadership is vision, or influence, or management, or power, or a function (not a role)…it’s most natural and fitting and fundamental to acknowledge that leadership is relationship.

If followership is relationship, both with one’s peers and one’s superior(s), why should leadership be anything different than the other side of that relationship? Leadership is not some wholly other phenomenon which operates in some other plane of existence. It’s people. A person. Connected with other people.

Two writers on leadership that I respect, James Lawrence and Walter Wright, each make this point. To quote Wright, “Leadership is a relationship that cares enough to walk patiently with people toward a shared purpose. Leadership is a relationship of dependency upon people. Leadership is not about leaders; it is about the people we lead” (Relational Leadership, pg.197).

Want to have the most profound impact on developing your leadership? Want the best return on your personal development investment? Pursue relationship.

In a recent dialogue with one of my subordinates, one of our conclusions was effectively this: it comes down to relationship over role. Saying what needed to be said. Expressing oneself. Working together. Mutual submission and honor. All of this opened doors that no amount of vision, or influence, or management, or power would have facilitated.

But relationship did.

Of course, relationship is not something you can just step into; you cannot merely flick a switch or attend a seminar to gain relationship. It requires a context, a proper environment. Trust. Communication.

But what better investment could a leader make? What more profound and effective focus could a leader have?


For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:

EmbracingFollowership_CoverTextureEmbracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Kirkdale Press, Feb 2016)

Links to other posts on this site: Blog Post Index

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