Robert Hall, an author and consultant and recent speaker at the Relational Thinking International Conference, has recently published a fascinating article in the Huffington Post about Relational Leadership. Entitled ‘The Follower Revolt: What’s Eating Leaders for Breakfast?’, he writes about the growing distrust from followers in leaders and the increasing incidence of followers rejecting leaders whom they are no longer willing to follower. You can read the full article here.
He recommends three steps for leaders in the light of this developing distrust:
Relational Risk — Name it
Leaders must begin by identifying and naming Relational Risk as a new, compelling component of risk management. Often the signs are present but ignored. The New York Times reports “Volkswagen’s command-and-control structure probably made it difficult for Winterkorn to escape responsibility, even if no direct culpability. Critics long faulted a company culture that hampers internal communication and discourages mid-managers from delivering bad news.” Millions of customers threatening class-action lawsuits were a product of a leader’s unidentified Relational Risk.
Of the University of Missouri, the New York Times wrote, “Wolfe didn’t do himself any favors. A former corporate executive, Wolfe possessed a command-and-control style that didn’t jibe well with campus life. And he clearly didn’t know how to respond to the protests.”
Relationship crisis does not devolve from a single incident but from a series of episodes where relationship damage accumulates because it is ignored or handled ineffectively – incubating risk.
Spineless acquiescence or reactive overkill are traps for leaders who fail to name and respect relational risk.
Relational Leadership — Lead it
Relational risk demands relational leadership. I define Relational Leadership as the ability to deliver and sustain productive engagement with widely different groups. It means being engaged with your employees, your customers, your shareholders and especially with outspoken groups that feel powerless – that may seem oppositional or even hostile. Yesterday’s wisdom was: Hold your friends close and your enemies closer.
Today’s wisdom requires leaders with the humility to recognize that those who oppose them constitute one of their most valuable resources. Competitors push leaders to perform better; philosophical opposition introduces differences that may reveal blind spots or opportunities for innovative improvement. Critics push them to get clearer on what they believe and why. A recent study found that highly regarded CEOs were six times as likely to be viewed as humble when compared to least-highly regarded CEOs.
Leaders coddled by uncontested power are often unprepared to lead during a relational crisis. In fact coddled leaders often unwittingly make coddled followers stronger. Today like never before, in both selecting and developing leaders, Relational Leadership skills must be a priority for successfully addressing this new risk of highly critical, sometimes entitled followers.
Relational Metrics — Measure it
The growing relational risk that leaders face is changing the metrics that boards, key shareholders and regulators pay attention to. I recently spoke at a Relational Risk conference at Cambridge University in England with attendees from about 20 countries. A fellow speaker addressed a growing movement requiring more integrated reporting from public companies beyond just financial information to include metrics regarding social and relational capital – a Relationship Scorecard, you might say. This broader reporting is now mandated in Brazil and South Africa and voluntarily being addressed in 20 percent of the FTSI 100 companies in the UK. Governments and shareholders recognize that financial reporting is a pretty narrow, after-the-fact instrument for understanding and anticipating relational risk with customers, employees, communities and the environment.
Instituting a Relationship Scorecard to track and understand the strengths and weaknesses of key constituent relationships is an important step to proactive Relational Leadership.
If we want a more accountable, less-entitled society, it must start with leaders competently and plan-fully addressing follower dissonance.
Simply blaming the “victims” will not be a viable strategy. In medicine it often leads to medical malpractice. In leaders it risks leadership malpractice. Leadership is similar to medicine where what most often gets you sued is not substandard medical treatment, but callous relationship treatment.
The risk of followership revolt is real. Self-righteous dictators, Pharisees, and command-and-control leaders are no more attractive than self-righteous followers. Relational leaders must be the grown-ups that engage proactively, productively, and relationally; anything less fuels revolt. Relational leaders will view these challenges as opportunities to strengthen leadership, build relationships with dissident groups and grow their relational currency. The time to build Relational Leadership is not in the midst of a crisis – it is now!”
Photo: Timothy Wolfe, who resigned as President of the University of Missouri amid a race row at the University. (By UKMC from Flickr)