relational leadership

Do You Make These Mistakes in Leadership?

I was having a conversation with a really close friend the other day. This person is a high-level leader who has a lot of autonomy in his role. He can make many decisions that can affect many lives. His board of directors gives him a lot of latitude to direct the vision and mission of his organization. His team loves working with him.

He knows leadership. He not only articulates this in the way he speaks, but I can see the actions of his life. He is:

  • Self-aware and others-aware.He knows his strengths and weaknesses, and is not afraid to admit when he doesn't know something. He is keenly aware of how others are presenting themselves.
  • Communicates vision. He repeats the vision for his organization over and over and over. I mean, if you are part of his group and cannot articulate what the organization is about, then you must be trying not to understand. You might not like it, You might not agree with it, But there is one thing for sure…You HAVE HEARD IT!
  • Displays cognitive and emotional intelligence. He is smart enough to be in his role and knows when his emotions are in play and how to manage them.
  • Balances task and relationship. He realizes that leadership is about both Leaders have followers and they need to work together to create the organization's vision.
  • Understands positives and negatives of culture. He knows that culture has both cool stuff about it and warts, and that is all just part of the cultural paradox.
  • Change Matters. He moves his team forward because he knows if he stands still, they become irrelevant. He is keenly aware of dynamics of change like conflict, stress, and speed.
  • Strategic and systematic thinker. He has a strong ability to know what the root issue is that needs to be addressed. He listens compassionately to all concerns and can keep his team focused on what the whole organization needs.
  • Spiritually connected. He interacts with people showing both grace and mercy at appropriate times and has a strong moral compass.

He both knows leadership and acts as a leader. As you can tell, I am a fan. I am not in any way saying he is perfect, just that when it comes to leadership he really gets the core essence.

The Conversation

Our dialogue was actually quite short. Neither of us had much time that day, but the conversation was about something very important to both of us. We both are members of an organization that is struggling. Its current leadership has been in place for a few years.

Leading this organization is in no way easy. What is easy is to sit back (like I am doing) and be critical.

My intention is not to be negative or critical but to turn some of our observations of this organization into a learning moment for all of us.

Here are 5 leadership mistakes we quickly identified. Perhaps you could use this list as a reflection of where you are in your own leadership.

The Mistakes

  • Personal Agenda. The leader has become emotionally attached to his initial vision and doesn’t seem to be allowing himself the capacity to learn.
  • Incremental Change. The leadership team has gotten into the weeds of the change that is needed. They are too focused on the tactics of making the change happen rather than staying strategic and delegating. This is causing the change to be micromanaged and blame is starting to occur.
  • Spirit of Defensiveness. When strategy gets questions and an answer is given confidently. When people want more depth, the same answers are given only louder and with more extraversion. This behavior is turf-protection rather than a spirit of openness and curiosity.
  • Vision possibility. While the vision for the organization is inspirational, it is one that is hard to relate to the practical. While inspiration carries with it emotion and cultural comfort, a vision has to do more than give a feeling of eating “Momma’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes." George Bernard Shaw gets attributed with one of my favorite vision quotes that makes the distinction between inspiration and possibility: “you see things; and you say, ‘why'. But I dream things that never were; and say 'why not!’.”
  • Lack of personal awareness. Perhaps the biggest issue is that many people tell this leader he is great all the time. I think he has started to believe it. While I am sure he feels some pressure in the role, my concern for him is that he is falling prey to the invulnerability fallacy.
  • The invulnerability fallacy. Because he has risen to the top, and many in the organization were excited he took the role, nothing can go wrong for him.


It is good for all of us to get really honest with ourselves from time to time. If you are sitting there telling yourself, “Well none of this happens to me so I am doing well," then perhaps you are suffering from the fallacy of thinking that you are all-knowing. I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains.

I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains. This is one of the reasons that coaching is so important. Every leader needs to have a voice who will speak truth to them. Who can help them see things that are not obvious. It is very difficult for someone who is internal to the organization and wants to stay, to deliver meaningful, long-term feedback. Once in awhile, someone will speak one word of truth, but very few will have the intestinal fortitude to continue on. This is one of the real values that coaching can bring. Hopefully, you are working with a coach, and this coach is providing you the challenge you need in your leadership life.

Every leader needs someone in their life who will keep them honest and humble, who doesn’t have much to lose in delivering bad news, a trusted voice who can lead the leader out of the wilderness, someone you can put your faith in because you know they have your best interest in mind.


I have given you 8 positive leadership dimensions and 5 things that can go wrong in leadership. Do a reflective assessment of your own leadership. Not that these two lists are in any way definitive, but use them to think, reflect, and assess what your leadership looks like. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think. 

Relational Leadership and Pareto’s Rule

The Pareto principle is one of the most common axioms I hear leaders describe when considering outcomes. It is also commonly known as "the law of the vital few" in which 80% of the effects we experience comes from 20% of the efforts being given. bag-and-hands

I experienced this with a client who was having a difficult time getting motivated setting goals for the year. He had completed an analysis of his business and noticed that of his 165 or so clients, only 13 of them provided 80% of his business The other 150 or so clients  made up the remaining 20% his business. He knew he had to call on all of his clients, but felt like "what is the point".  If this was a straight college grading scale , he could get a “B” with the 13 clients without even trying, and the thought of trying to motivate the other 150 was overwhelming.

This client happened to be in sales. However, the analysis he provided is really about leader and follower relationship. Sales are the result of the relationship with the follower, or in this case we call them clients. Those of you who lead churches for example may not think in sales terms, you may have other metrics you measure. No matter the metric, if you lead people, it is about the investment in quality relationships that matter.

The client and I decided to make a game out of motivation by saying, “OK let’s NOT think about this year”. He is 32 and I challenged him to think about where he wanted to be in his career when he was 60. He said he had no idea, and I was reminded of the children’s classic, Alice in Wonderland. Alice was walking along the road and when she came to the fork was puzzled on which way to go. The Cheshire Cat looked down out of the tree and said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”.

[Tweet "Leadership lesson: 'If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.'"]

Developing yourself as a leader requires that you know where you are going. So I had him write a narrative, a story of about 1 page that is descriptive in nature, of what he envisions doing in his sixth decade of life. I challenged him to be descriptive and emotional in his writing of this one page novel.

This writing of your personal narrative can be quite freeing as a leader. If you are feeling stuck in your goal setting, write a picture of what you want your goal attainment to be and then work backwards to create the steps that are needed to get you there.

Now that my client has identified what he wants his story to be, he must work to turn it into reality today. We took Pareto’s rule and continued the game by putting his customers in three buckets, then describing what his emotional connection is to them for the year. Next, we applied what we all know about top performers: that if you stretch and care for them they will produce even more. Notice there are two important facets here:

  1. Stretch them. Give them bigger goals, bigger targets. Believe in them, really show them that you think they can do it.
  2. Care for them. Support them. Give them resources. Encourage them along the way. Top performers will do great things for you if you support them.

Here is what it practically looks like:

  • In the first bucket are the 13 who provide 80% of his business. His connection to them is one of nurturing He wants to support them, and provide for them so they continue to grow. The idea is to give them the support they need to reach their full potential. However 13 is probably too many for him to fully invest in without ignoring the other 150.
    • From these 13 in the first bucket, he now chooses 5 who have the potential to make his vision a reality. We called them Drive with 5. He picked 5 clients that he wants to be more assertive with in their development. He wants to be intentional about getting more business from them, and really give them a lot of his emotional energy and time. The development with these 5 is where the stretch comes in. Give them bigger goals. Give them more of a chance to have breakout kinds of success. Invest in these leaders. Spend more time with them and give them coaching and encouragement.
  • His second group of clients are the 150 or so customer that make up 20% of his business. The question to ask about this group is: "Who has potential to rise into the first bucket?" He is having a dating relationship with them. Getting to know them better and deciding for next year which one or two of them will become part of his Drive with five.  What are their strengths? How can he capitalize on their strengths so they can become more self-aware of what their potential really might be?
  • The next segment is those still in the 150 group we call Future Harvest. This is the balance of your universe of relationships. This pool will always be there for you in small capacity. They are important because they make up your world of relationships and potential. They are important for stability and support. You need them, so do not ignore them. Love them and treat them well.
  • Last, my client sent me his narrative, as well as the names of his Drive with 5 and his dating list. We are going to discuss them on every coaching call. Accountability is another key to making your dream come true. Even Alice in Wonderland had the Cheshire Cat to hold her accountable!

I believe this process can work whether you are in sales, a minister in a church, an IT manager, or a company president. We all have a finite number of relationships we engage with that make up our 100%. The question is, which ones are you going to invest in to make your life goals a reality? Keep in mind that this leader I was working with had over 100 clients and so the narrowing to 13 and then to 5 to really invest in made sense in relation to his overall numbers. If you have 60 in your sphere of influence you may only want to invest in 3 or 4. If your sphere is smaller you might pick one or two. The actual number becomes less important when you are starting. The most important question is, besides yourself, who are the leaders you are going to invest in to make your leadership vision a reality?

[reminder]What are your thoughts about breaking down the important relationships in your life like this? [/reminder]

[callout]I have seen this process work time and again to help people analyze relationships for leadership investment. I believe it will work for you to think about who in your sphere of influence you should be intentionally developing to allow your leadership vision to become a reality. Click here to download a free pdf tool that will walk you through these three steps to help you analyze your relationships.[/callout]