Keys to implementing relational leadership in the organisation
One of the top recommended books by Forbes for creative leaders in 2018 is Relational Leadership: Theory, Practice and Development. The author is Nicholas Clarke, professor of Organisational Behaviour & Human Resource Management at EADA Business School. One of the things that Clarke tried to achieve in the book was to bring different perspectives on relational leadership and some practical ideas to implement them. In the following interview with him, we talk about the exciting new developments and challenges that the practice of relational leadership brings for organisations.
How do you define relational leadership?
A chief characteristic of relational leadership is that the focus is by and large, on how leadership emerges as a dynamic process. Rather than thinking about leadership as primarily to do with the characteristics or behaviours specific leaders show, it is better considered as a process. A consequence of the interactions between organisational actors, that is influenced by the context in which these interactions take place. This has a number of consequences for understanding what leadership is. The first is that leadership is a social process that occurs between people. Second, since leadership is a social process, then fundamentally leadership must if anything, be about the nature of relationships between leaders and those that follow or who are influenced by them. So, leadership is a process rather than a set of behaviours.
What is the dominant perspective in relational leadership?
One of the most dominant places relational dynamics at its centre. It is through these dynamics which leadership emerges and produces its effects. Put more simply, the effects of leadership are due to the nature and character of the relationship that exists between leaders and followers.
In this sense, how the behaviours of individuals interact with wider organizational processes and contexts?
Since relationships between people are by the nature dynamic, evolving and influenced by the context in which they occur, then one can assume that the nature of leadership (and its effectiveness) is likely to be more akin to a dynamic process. This refers to the specific context surrounding the interpersonal space that exists when they are together. Followers thus take on a far more active role in the leadership process that has traditionally been the case. From this perspective, how followers perceive leadership or their social constructions of leadership have a direct input and influence on the leadership relationship. All individuals within an organisation have the potential for undertaking leadership depending on what task needs to be performed or the specific challenges that they face.
What are the most important characteristics of effective leadership relationships? Is it only a question of trust or it goes beyond that?
Trust is certainly a major factor in addition to respect. These are central to developing effective leadership relationships. But one of the important developments in relational leadership is the increasing significance attached to the idea of mutuality. It is about leaders and followers in a relationship having mutual trust for each other. Where both leaders and followers respect and trust each other, then the effects on follower job performance are far stronger than whether just the follower trusts or respects the leader or not.
What are the main challenges that leaders have to face nowadays?
Continuous change and innovation are now seen as pivotal to the success of not only organisations but economies, in the dynamic social, technological and global changing landscape. As organisations are increasingly required to work in partnership with each other and are increasingly part of complex networks, whether they be supply chains, strategic alliances, and other collaborative arrangements, this has placed new demands on leadership. It requires new thinking to consider not just what leadership looks like in teams and organisations, but also at the inter-organisational level too.
In your book, you talk about different leadership styles. Could you put an example?
Yes, I do talk about these different perspectives of leadership. Responsible leadership for example recognises that leadership for addressing ethics and social responsibility requires leaders to collaborate with many other agencies, organisations and stakeholders. Another one is shared leadership, which suggests that differing individuals can undertake leadership and not just those in manager positions. However, complexity leadership is perhaps one of the most interesting ideas about current thinking on leadership in that it connects leadership with innovation in organisations. In so doing it sees leadership, not as a property or characteristic of an individual but that associated with an organisation’s social system.
Could you give us any real example of relational leadership?
There are a number of organisations who are adopting ideas of relational leadership. For example, the notion of shared leadership is taking up within healthcare organisations more than others because of the need to work with other health professionals to solve complex healthcare problems affecting people. While NASA is adopting ideas from complexity leadership in order to support greater innovation.
What are the main ideas you expose at EADA when teaching on relational leadership?
Participants in classes are interested in understanding how they can perform best in differing business and cultural contexts and what skills they need to do so. They often ask how a manager is best able to deal with the complexity and volatility affecting today’s organisations. There is, of course, no simple answer to these key questions. But through understanding how leadership interacts with context, managing diversity and inspiring creativity through the quality of relationships they form with followers and others, then we equip our participants with knowledge and skills to better address these challenges.
How do you see our participants? Are they well prepared to become good leaders?
Participants arrive at EADA already highly motivated and eager to learn. They come because we offer a unique philosophy on putting our participants first and because they want to be exposed to new ideas in business to prepare them for today’s work challenges. Our job here is to develop them to their fullest potential.
How do you think the leadership will evolve in the coming years? What will be the most successful companies?
Perhaps unsurprising I would say that there will be a significant change in how leadership is thought about where organisations will increasingly adopt more relational perspectives. I explain in the book that there are 3 major challenges that leadership must address: capacity, context and crisis (responsibility). Those organisations that adapt more quickly to the new organisational reality and recognise how leadership needs to reflect this will be ahead of their competitors and by that measure alone likely to be far more successful.