Thinking about leadership as a whole casts a wide net full of different practices, theories, and philosophies. If we really get to the heart of what leadership is, I think it can be summarized in one sentence: Leadership is a person’s ability to influence others toward a common goal. Whether you work in a church or another organizational setting, there has to be a united front working to accomplish a common mission. The leader’s role is to navigate people in the direction of the shared goal.
I want to break down a philosophy of leadership that has been impactful to me and our team at VOUS. It’s called the Leader-Member Exchange (LMX) Theory.
There’s a dual relationship between you as the leader and the people under your leadership. The interaction in the middle is where influence comes into play. In order to influence people toward the mission, good exchanges must move in both directions. This is the Leader-Member Exchange.
Your influence as a leader is what ultimately drives people toward your organization’s common goal. The key ingredient to building influence is relationships. While not everyone on your team has to be your best friend, your level of relationship directly impacts their success underneath your leadership. If you want high-level relationships, high-quality interactions are required. H.I.G.H. quality interactions can be broken down into four components: Honorable, Invested, Gracious, and Honest. Let’s dive deeper into each one.
One of our values at VOUS is that honor is our calling. We take honor seriously, and we honor aloud and often. It can be as simple as putting your phone down when someone is speaking or closing your laptop when they come into your office. Honor strengthens relationships and communicates that I value your time, input, and requests. Not only that, I’m excited to be in the room with you and will be intentional with the time we are together. Because leaders go first, honor starts with you. As you begin to honor your team with your actions and words, your team will start to reciprocate.
A strong leader wants to invest in the people who are under their leadership. It is true that leaders serve up, but the best leaders also serve down. Matthew 20:28 says that even Jesus came not to be served but to serve others. He washed the disciples’ feet. Serving down means I am investing in the people I lead. It means I see the pain points of my team, help find solutions, pay attention to what their goals are. This is why evaluations are important. Yes, evaluations should measure performance, but they should also figure out my team members’ goals and their plan of action to achieve them. As an invested leader, I genuinely care about the achievement of their goals. A win for them is a win for everyone.
A relational leader is a gracious leader. It’s probably true that most of us have never done the job we are doing now, and it is inevitable that mistakes will be made along the way. A gracious leader is not hesitant to correct or coach but does so in a compassionate way. Gracious leaders meet people where they are, recognize that mistakes are part of the journey, and coach people through their mistakes. The mistake does not define them or their contribution to the organization. A mistake is often a reflection of a disconnect between what someone needs to do and their ability to do it. As a leader, my job is to help bridge the gap for them, approaching coaching conversations with compassion, grace, and care. When the moment comes that I make a mistake and need grace, it will be reciprocated because grace has been woven into our culture. If we want others to have grace for us, we have to extend grace to others first.
As a leader in our organization, I value honest feedback. Growth means that we are no longer where we used to be but we’re not yet where we want to be. It requires honesty from people around me to help me move forward. Honest feedback means giving vision in areas where there are gaps and opportunities for growth. It also means speaking into the areas where people are winning. Behavior that is celebrated is often repeated, so it’s important to take time to celebrate the areas where your team is winning.
If your interactions with the people you lead are honorable, invested, gracious, and honest, you are on your way to forming H.I.G.H. quality relationships in your organization. And as your relationship levels increase with your team, so does your ability to move your mission forward.