Two kinds of leaders. (Part one)

I don’t claim to have the market cornered on good leadership.


The Lord knows that I am not a perfect example of a good leader. There are several things that I have learned in my journey in business, life, and ministry that have taught me the path to become a good leader. I’m going to take the next few entries and share them with you in the hopes that they can help move you down the road like they did me.


Being a leader is a tricky thing.

There are tasks to complete, schedules to manage, standards to meet, etc. You have to fit everything and everyone together like a very intense game of Tetris. I started my process as a leader at the ripe old age of 15. Leading a small group of students in a high-school worship team. I was that leader that could get things done. If you wanted things organized, planned, rehearsed (into the ground), and sharpened to a fine point, I was your guy. I had seen this leadership modeled by many others, and they seemed to be successful, so why not do it that way for myself? I soon learned that no one wanted to be on that kind of team. And after a few weeks, I was having a major problem motivating. I got frustrated and blamed their lack of commitment for all of our problems. Fast forward 7 years. Here I was still doing that same thing, only I was doing it at my first “vocational ministry” job. All of the “expectations”, “requirements”, “standards” and “commitments” I tried worked about as well there too.

It wasn’t until I sat down dejected and frustrated across the breakfast table from one of my mentors that I realized that I had been doing it all wrong. Instead of seeing the people as a means to an end(performance), see them as ends unto themselves–people working together towards a common destination. Suddenly things I had been taught by mentors, pastors, and bosses (at Apple, of all places) began to all fall into place. This series of entries is a brief summary of what I realized.

There are two kinds of leadership styles; Relational and Positional.

Positional leadership is what I had become so good at doing. Setting goals, expectations , and requirements for the people to get them to perform better was my Modus Operandi. Using my title and the authority from my Position to command respect, obedience, action, motivation, and RESULTS. I DONT CARE WHAT YOU SAY, WE ARE GOING TO GET STUFF DONE! I AM THE BOSS, THIS IS MY JOB. I AM IN CHARGE, MAKE IT HAPPEN. Ever hear or say any of those things? Chances are you’ve encountered or been a Positional leader. Positional leaders are territorial island dwellers who value their authority, preference, or influence over the well being of the team or its members. They’re not necessarily ruthless dictators–in fact they are probably very nice people– however, the first thing they communicate to you is that they are in charge, and you are not.

Relational leadership is mostly, but not completely the opposite of this. Yes there are still goals and standards– And you still have to get things done. But the difference is all in how you see the purpose of your team. Relational leaders collaborate. They wield authority through mutual trust, and make it their goal to earn respect before they ever try to command it. Relational leaders collaborate, include others in their decision-making processes, and make it a point to hear people out–even if they don’t plan on doing what someone may suggest. They make sure the person knows that their input and perspective is valuable. And if they do not plan on using an idea or suggestion, they make sure and explain why and avoid terms like “well it’s my job, my decision, and thats the way it’s going to be.”
There is definitely still authority in a title and position, but is that where the motivation in the team comes from? Absolutely not. Motivation in a team led by relational leaders comes from a feeling of shared ownership. We all win or we all lose, together. Relationship is tricky. And so is relational leadership. It’s vulnerable, it’s honest, and owns the mistakes it makes. But it is worth every second and has the most lasting results.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to share my experience of becoming a Relational leader with you. This is not to say that I have completed this, oh gosh no. But this is what I very much desire to be in my journey as a leader, and as such I strive to become it. I’ll share ideas, stories, and why I believe Relational Leadership is the healthiest, most effective, and most powerful form of leadership.

How do I start being a relational leader? Well, start by building relationships! This is a trick answer. People can look at you as a leader and say things like “we want to build community” or “we want you to connect with your people”, but what I’ve seen is that most leaders have absolutely NO idea how to actually begin doing those things.

Begin with the end in mind. What is the end result of Relational Leadership? Unity. When people are in unity, The Lord commands His blessing (Psalm 133)

If you are a leader who’s team is struggling with morale or motivation, this can be really daunting. Even worse is if you have a divided team full of people who look out for their own interests above all else. How do you begin to turn a culture like that around? As the leader or leadership team, it starts with YOU. Frankly, it can be overwhelming if you try to tackle it all at once. So let’s begin with the little things which can go a long way.

Step one: The brief interaction. (coming next)

P.S. I would love your comments on this topic. Please, don’t go bashing your leaders. Realize that most leaders (including myself) are learning and figuring this stuff out as a process. Have grace for them to do so.

Comments ( 5 )

  • Tony Archuleta

    A good relational leader developes their people by reproducing themselves in others. Building confidence, passion, purpose and vision in their team. Leaders need to challenge their team members to be their best by constantly reinforcing their value, importance, and contributions. God believes in them, you believe in them and need to encourage them to believe in themselves!

  • Rachael Hope Morrison

    What a fantastic conceptual truth! It’s both functional and practical–even possible. I love the idea of the relational leader and have served under each type of leader. Don’t sell yourself short. I beleive this type of leadership is what I’ve seen in you and the other leaders at Victory. Keep up the good work!

  • Mary Beth McElroy

    Jesus… The Trinity is all about Relational Leadership! Love where you are going with these articles.

  • Excellent thoughts, Michael. I look forward to hearing more. I have definitely seen both kinds of leaders in my life, and I would say that one of the defining characteristics of relational leaders is humility. Relational leaders understand that they don’t have all of the answers, and others may have better skills or ideas. These leaders recognize those talents in others and encourage the contributions of others to build and unite the team.