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Relational Leadership: a review

'Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Influence and Service By: Walter C. Wright (Credit: Biblica)Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing is considered by many to be one of his finest comedies. His comedic wit beautifully melds with his poignant meditations on honor and shame in this classic. In one exchange, Claudio, who is convinced his beloved Hero has been unfaithful, notes, "Friendship is constant in all things, Save in the office and affairs of love." Claudio found the steadfastness of friendship to waver when it came to the workplace and to the heart. Relations between friends may be unreliable in the office, but that does not mean they should be forsaken, according to Walter Wright.

In his book Relational Leadership: A Biblical Model for Influence and Service, White writes out his thoughts and draws from his previous experiences with leadership in order to stimulate the reader to think about leadership and empower readers to invest in the people they are leading. He tackles the often nebulously defined concept of leadership as "a relationship— a relationship in which one person seeks to influence the thoughts, behaviors, beliefs or values of another person."

Beginning by giving the reader a brief theology on servant leadership, White continues by defining a servant leader. Emphasizing the role of influence, White spends the rest of the book by elaborating upon how the leader is influencing with vision, values, through relationships, and with accountability.

Giving strong attention to the concept of influence, Wright writes that while leadership is a relationship of influence, "organizationally, it is a relationship of influence with purpose: maintaining the community and achieving the shared mission." Coupled with influence is trust, in which the leader and follower develop a faithful bond whereby the leader trusts the feedback from the follower and the follower trusts the direction of the leader. Citing and concurring with Warren Bennis, Wright believes it is the job of the relational leader to provide direction, trust, and hope to the follower. In turn, the leader must acknowledge and act in such a way that realizes that they "hold something very fragile in their hands—the hopes and dreams and ideas and contributions of their people. These must be held gently with respect, not crushed in the fist of power."

According to Wright, the leader, who is in relationship with followers, influences them through vision. Using the metaphor of a cloud, Wright finds that influencing through vision is both promising (the shade of the cloud) and providing (the water from the cloud). The vision both casts the direction for the organization, while also implanting strategy as to how to achieve the vision. To ascertain the vision, Wright provides ten questions that might be helpful:

1. Who are we?
2. What is important to us?
3. Where in the world are we?
4. Where do we want to be?
5. What can we do?
6. How should we do it?
7. When will we do it?
8. Who will do it?
9. How are we doing?
10. Was God pleased?

Not only does a vision provide a sense of direction, it also identifies the values of the group. Termed "influencing with values," Wright finds that in order to reinforce a culture of service and values serving, the leader must demonstrate this posture. "Leadership exists to serve the mission and to serve the people. It is a relationship of power to serve…
Belief precedes behavior." One of the rhetorical ways in which Wrights say this can manifest itself is in reversing a normative question. Instead of asking who reports to you, ask "for whose success are you responsible for?"

Influencing with vision, with values, through relationships, and finally the leader influences with accountability. These leaders have not only been tasked with holding on to the hopes and dreams of their followers, they have been entrusted the organization as a whole. Therefore, the followers hold the leader accountable to their vision, and the leader holds the followers accountable to their actions. "Leaders hold followers accountable to the shared vision, mission and values of the organization, not to the vision, values or opinions of the leader." Wright understands that confrontation is inevitable, but he also understands like David Brooks that to be broken open is to be healed.

Walter Wright offers a refreshing and personal perspective of leadership in his work Relational Leader. Much like the leadership of Jesus, Wright calls on individuals to lead in a way that rarely forces anyone to follow, but strongly and loving allures individuals to keep up (Hosea 2:14). Wright finds it far more efficient for leaders to lovingly serve instead of begrudgingly force. I believe Shakespeare would agree. As Claudio later said in Much Ado about Nothing, "Time goes on crutches till love has all his rites."

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