REALity Question: Can You Be Good at Leading if You’re Bad at Relationships?

On Monday I talked about how important it is for leaders to develop relationships with the people they lead. The next day a reader sent me a great REALity Question on the subject.

“If I’m not good at building relationships, can I still be a good leader?”

I have to bite my tongue so I don’t answer this question too quickly because my gut response is, “No.”

But that answer is way too black and white. The answer to the question of whether someone is or isn’t a good leader is rarely “yes” or “no.” We’re all leaders, and our ability to lead falls on a sliding scale. On one side of the scale there’s weak and ineffective leadership, and on the other side of the scale there’s strong and effective leadership. Then there’s a big space in between. The more leader abilities you possess, the better you rank as a leader.

However, I still believe your ability to form relationships is a deal breaker. You can have every other leadership quality in the book, but if you can’t relate to others, your leadership sustainability and effectiveness will not last.

If you are weak at building relationships, it’s probably because you don’t enjoy being with people or you are not interested in other people. The problem with either situation is this: We lead people. So how in the world can you lead a person effectively if you don’t like or respect or maybe even care about that person? And on the flip side, how can you follow a leader that you don’t like or don’t trust? We may follow their instructions, but we won’t passionately follow their lead. There’s a big difference.

Here are four actions that I find helpful in building relationships:

Find a common connection.

It may take some time to figure it out, but you and I have something in common. If we spend time visiting and getting to know one another, we will figure it out. Not only will our conversation bring us closer together, but when we find our common connection, we’ll be more comfortable with one another.

Look for “their” win.

I’m sure you’ve heard the negotiation statement of finding a “win-win” solution. Forming relationships is almost the same except it’s easier and less confusing. Just find their win. Don’t worry about yours right now. It will come back to you someday. If you lead others (and don’t we all?) figure out how you can help others find a win by attaining a goal, realizing a dream, completing a project, or meeting a need.

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

If Gomer Pyle flashed in your head just now, then you’re showing your age! Do you ever surprise others? Surprise acts of kindness mean so much to others. When someone does something surprising, it’s a surprise because it wasn’t expected. You didn’t “have” to do it. That intrigues others and differentiates your intentions.


Maybe this is just a pet peeve of mine, but I’m going to list it anyway. Nothing alienates me more than fake relationships. Be yourself. You’ll find that people will love your authenticity and want to follow you for who you are way more than who you pretend to be.

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