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Why Relational Leadership Makes a Real Difference

Why Relational Leadership Makes a Real Difference

How leaders can realize maximum management impact

teamwork-3213924_640.jpgWhat do you do when you walk into an organization as the new leader and the organization is struggling with trust and morale issues from both employees and customers, recruitment and retention challenges, and reduced productivity?

That was what faced me as the new chief executive of my organization. My solution was different than many leaders and considered risky and ill-advised by all but a few.

I focused on encouraging and supporting the employees of the organization – as people. This meant getting to know something about them – their jobs, their concerns, and their lives as people beyond work.  The employees’ trust had been broken many times over.

How does a leader build trust and create credibility? To do this, I called on my experiences as an employee, I knew that my words and actions had to match, but even more than that – my intentions had to match too.

I began to walk around the offices and schedule open office time – in person and virtually. I listened and learned. I fielded concerns, new ideas, and general complaints.  Now, before you say that is not the job of the chief executive, pause a moment and consider the following. 

Where does the responsibility for the entire organization reside? According to a sign on the desk of President Harry S. Truman, “the buck stops here.”  So, while CEOs might delegate the gathering of the issues to others, I believe that the responsibility for addressing them sits with the CEO. If you as the CEO do not know what these issues are, how can you fix them? 

Employees who do not believe the CEO cares about their problems will not raise them, instead, they fester and grow.

As a new CEO, I needed to hear what the problems and concerns of the employees were, and I wanted to learn more about the employees who worked for me.

I discovered that the employees needed technological tools to help with their work, but more importantly, they needed and wanted a leader who believed in and championed them. They found this in me.

I implemented their solution-based ideas and gave them credit. I fought for an increase in budget to bring in more technology and hire additional people who could provide the support and assistance the employees and the organization needed. I also championed and acknowledged them.

What happened? I did not crash and burn – as some expected or wanted.

This ill-advised leadership approach – relating to and engaging with employees as people – succeeded.

Interestingly, results were where we saw the first success, increasing outcomes by 50 percent in year one of my leadership. Retention, morale, and recruitment followed in quick succession, supported by data and surveys. New technological tools combined with increased morale and retention led to results never thought possible – a 100 percent increase which held steady during my entire leadership tenure even during a pandemic.

The reputation of the organization increased as employees recruited new employees. Customers and stakeholders were pleased. 

Other organizations began to ask how this happened, what was the secret?

Here are my take aways:

1. Show your employees that you care for them as people by putting them first - in every aspect of your organization - technology, processes, and communications.

2. Listen! Be seen and make yourself available to your employees, & talk about life outside work – this was extremely important during the pandemic.

3. Invest your time in and on your most valuable resource – the people of your workforce – from office hours to walkabouts & publicly acknowledge the work and ideas of the employees.

And KEEP DOING IT over and over again.

What I found is the people who work for you want to know that you, their leader, is a human being – a person.  And they want to know that you care about them as another human being – not just a part of the organizational machine.


8.jpgRelational leadership and management authority Cheryl L. Mason, J.D. is a TEDx speaker, author and CEO and Chief Catalyst of Catalyst Leadership Management —a firm helping CEOs, senior leaders, companies and teams lead with authenticity and empathy while leveraging strategy, analytics, vision and change management to realize record-breaking results. As the fourth Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed—and the first woman and military spouse—to serve as the CEO /Chairman of the VA Board of Veterans' Appeals, The Honorable Cheryl L. Mason has a proven track record of leading with an impactful morale-boosting, trust-based, people-centric approach. Mason also authored the acclaimed book Dare to Relate: Leading with a Fierce Heart” centered on cultivating strong workforce relationships, She can be reached online at www.catalystleadershipmgmt.com

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