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Leadership & Relationships

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

What to Cultivate, What to Tolerate, What to Terminate



Leadership & Relationships - What a topic, hey?

If we agree that "leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less." (John C. Maxwell), we might also agree that skillfully navigating relationships should be a top priority for leaders.

And it often is. However, many leaders get caught up in the treacherous terrain of managing relationships because of blurred lines of personal responsibility, and leadership accountability.

Let's clear them up.



Understanding Personal Responsibility

Let's put your role as leader aside for a moment, and focus on personal responsibility in relationships.

In any relationship, there are things you are responsible for, and things the other person in the relationship is responsible for.

You are responsible for your beliefs, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, decisions, words, actions, and consequences that stem from them.

You are responsible for your values, dreams, aspirations, time, energy, health, finances, lifestyle, and fulfillment.

And the other person in the relationship is responsible for theirs.

This is called, having boundaries. Like property lines, boundaries delineate what belongs, is of value to you, and is your responsibilitiy to protect, and what is your neighbor's (and therefore not your responsibility)

You are responsible for what you allow into your property, what you take out, and what you keep out.

So is your neighbor, the other person in the relationship.

Everyone we come in contact with is our neighbor, regardless of our relationship with them.

We must always remember what is ours, and what is theirs to value, keep, and protect.


“Boundaries protect the things that are of value to you. They keep you in alignment with what you decided you want in life. That means the key to good boundaries is deciding what you want.”


-Adelyn Birch.



So, what do you value in life?

Determine what you personally value in life and in work, then live, and relate in such way as to advance those values in your interactions with others.

If you value peace, you will take personal responsibility to cultivate and protect peace. Which means you will not cultivate, nor tolerate, any words or actions from yourself or others that threaten peace.

This is the same for any other personal values, such as faith, family, health, integrity, excellence, wealth, to name a few.

And just as you would not allow your boundaries to be crossed in these areas, you should also respect others' boundaries around their values.

If you are clear about your boundaries, yet someone crosses them, it is you that let them. And it is only you that can rectify that.

Same goes for another when their boundaries are breached.


"Love yourself enough to set boundaries. Your time and energy are precious and you get to decide how you use them. You teach people how to treat you by deciding what you will and won't accept."

- Anna Taylor



Problems arise when we:

  1. take action (of commission or omission) and try to make others responsible for them.

  2. allow ourselves to take responsibility for the consequences of others' actions.

Always remember, "My property, my responsibility. Your property, your responsibility."

What does this look like in a leadership relationship?



Understanding Leadership Accountability What do relationship boundaries look like in the context of leadership? Remember, as a leader your value-add lies in your ability to positively influence others to choose, of their own volition, to align with you towards furthering a common goal? But how do you win people over without letting them run all over you? And how do you maintain your boundaries without being inaccessible to people who need to draw from you to progress?


Three Forces at Play At work, there are a minimum of three forces at play, that influence workplace relations; your values as a leader, the values of the organization (which may be different from yours), and the values of the people you are in relationship with (which may be different from your values, and those of the organization). The best scenario for your as a leader, is where your values and those of the organization align, and others. This does not happen by chance, and must be intentionally cultivated. Where your respective values don't align, and they are adverse to fostering healthy work relations, you still have the opportunity, as a leader, to influence the values of the unit, and the people under your leadership influence. NB/ Be honest with yourself in situations of relationship misalignment, to ask yourself and others, whether it is you and your values that are a hindrance to your leadership influence, and others' progress. Having addressed the three forces at play at work, let's now look at how you can positively influence your leadership relationships towards pursuing common objectives. The answer lies in the signals you send by what you cultivate, what you tolerate, and what you terminate.


1. What You Cultivate

There is no farmer on earth that plants tomato seeds and gets surprised when they see tomatoes sprout. They certainly would not plant tomato seeds and expect to harvest apples.

You get where I am going with the farming analogies; you reap what you sow. And you won't reap what you didn't first sow.

Remembering the boundaries of personal responsibility, as a leader you must always be intentional about the thoughts, emotions, words, and actions you choose to entertain and display. This is because they not only determine your personal outcomes, but by virtue of your leadership role, they also influence the values, culture, wellbeing, and outcomes of those under your leadership influence.

This also applies to what you allow by way of omission; if you are not deliberate about weeding out what does not align with the values, culture, wellbeing, and outcomes you want to promote, do not be surprised if something takes over your leadership vacuum.

Either way, it would be your leadership accountability as the custodian of workplace values, culture, wellbeing, and outcomes, to hold each person responsible for their decisions, and to collectively, hold each other accountable to collaborate for the good of your common mission.

What does this look like in practice?

It looks like enlightening, equipping, empowering, encouraging, exemplifying, and enforcing what you want to promote, protect, or penalize.

Just remember to be sensitive to praise in public, correct in private, and reward generously.


"Typically, if you reward something, you get more of it. If you punish something, you get less of it. And our businesses have been built for the past 150 years very much on that kind of motivational scheme."

- Daniel H. Pink



2. What You Tolerate

We generally know the Dos and Don'ts of life. What is not always clearcut is the grey area between what is black and what is white.

While it is prudent and good governance to institute policies and codes of conduct, leadership is not about catching people out to enforce the rules on what they have done wrong.

Leadership is often more about looking behind and beyond actions to find opportunities to impart values, correct mistakes, and invite others to higher levels of being and behaving.

This means that as a leader you may tolerate some less than favorable things, not because you condone that behavior, but because you can turn these incidences into opportunities to clarify values, reinstate boundaries, and correct mistakes. This will more often than not, do more for the person, you, as their leader, and others, than coming down with the ax.

The resulting behavior usually reveals the effectiveness of tolerance in leadership relationships. If the less than favorable behavior changes for the better, the infraction can be forgiven and forgotten, and the person given the opportunity to continue in healthy work relations with you and others. If it continues, it is a sign of deeper issues, which if tolerated, would compromise not only their relationships, but also your relationship with them, and with others, as the leader that allows a toxic work environment.

NB/ Remember boundaries and personal responsibility during times of perceived tension and conflict so that you don't rush in to rectify a situation that is none of your business, and that can be resolved by the person or people involved.

Unless it stifles a healthy, productive, collaborative work environment, let people be responsible for their decisions and the consequences therefrom. Instead, with your words and actions, continue to reiterate the positive values, culture, wellbeing, and outcomes you do want to promote, giving others the opportunity to align.


"You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair."

- Martin Luther


1. What You Terminate

I once fired someone on the spot after finding out that they bribed to secure a client contract, and assured their counterpart on the other side, that they were acting on my instruction, which they were not.

We followed due process of course, but there was no room for negotiation.

A breach of trust signals declining relations. Some breaches break trust irreparably and must be met with nothing short of termination of working relations.


"Do not justify, apologize for, or rationalize the healthy boundary you are setting. Do not argue. Just set the boundary calmly, firmly, clearly, and respectfully."

- Crystal Andrus


Leadership Relationships at the Speed of Trust The Speed of Trust is actually the title of a book I have yet to read, but have heard great things about. It is by Stephen M.R. Covey. Trust in relationships is so valuable a commodity that it is said that "when trust goes up in a relationship, or on a team, in a company, in an industry, with a client, with a customer - speed goes up with it and cost comes down. Everything happens faster and everything costs less because trust has been established. That's a dividend, a high-trust dividend." Forbes. Conversely, where there is low trust, and everyone is checking up on everyone else, everything moves slower and costs more.


"If people like you, they will listen to you, but if they trust you, they will do business with you."

- Zig Ziglar

Trust is the key factor in growing your leadership influence, relationships, and outcomes.

As a leader you can always grow to become a person of, and to foster high-trust relationships. As a leader, you must also be intentional about granting access, developing intimacy, and investing in people according to their level of trustworthiness in character, competence, and connection with others.

This works the merit system to reinforce the values, culture, wellbeing, and outcomes you want to promote, and to discourage those that will not serve the team, the organization, and your leadership vision and values.


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