The importance of building relationships in leadership positions

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Nearly every business has a hierarchical structure, one with leaders at the top and power that trickles downward through the ranks. Good leaders are needed to ensure decisions get made and that a team is well-managed, productive, and happy. However, not everyone agrees on what makes a good leader. While there are a variety of leadership styles, all good business leaders share one trait: an emphasis on building relationships at their company. 

The power of relationships in leadership

Ask nearly anyone what matters most to them in life, and you’ll get the same answer: their relationships. While most people are referring to personal relationships, we spend a huge amount of our lives at work. Everyone wants the respect, care, and empathy relationships provide whether they’re at home or at the office.

Good leaders are more than just decision makers. They put people first. Truly great leaders do four things extraordinarily well:

  • Develop positive, healthy work environments that encourage employees to grow and collaborate together
  • Inspire workers to take pride in the impact of their work and self-manage accordingly
  • Make employees feel valued and included in the decision-making process
  • Operate their business in such a way that benefits not only employees, but society as a whole

Maintaining all four of these objectives requires a mastery of personal relationships. In the case of the first three, leaders must take the time to develop relationships with their employees and continue nurturing those relationships on an ongoing basis. The fourth item in the list requires thinking of a business’s relationship to the society it participates in and benefits from. To do both of these things, leaders must look at their leadership status as a relationship in itself.

Leadership as a relationship

Healthy relationships work both ways, and good leaders know that being a good leader is just as much about listening to and incorporating feedback as it is about executing decisions and determining policy changes. When you recognize the importance of workers at every level of a corporate hierarchy, you build the foundations for trust from the top to the bottom and vice versa.

The more traditional approach to corporate leadership is one based on title, authority, and objective analysis. Leaders look at the bottom line of a company (often profit) and make decisions to benefit the entity as a whole, at least as they perceive it. The problem is that the view from the top isn’t always comprehensive, and this style not only alienates those at the bottom, it misses out on the valuable insights those on the ladder’s bottom rungs can provide.

A rational, strategic leadership style can be valuable in some situations, but companies are better off overall when they recognize that the top is unstable without a solid foundation. Developing healthy relationships improves that foundation by creating trust between levels. Ultimately, you’ll find that leadership is a relationship like any other.

The keystones of relationship-based leadership

Relationship-based leadership entails more of an approach to business rather than any specific actions, but a few guiding principles can help ensure you’re always putting relationships first. All four of these ideas inform one another, so nurturing one will in turn, nurture them all.

Good intentions

It’s vitally important that leaders employ relationship-first tactics for the right reasons. Good leaders must actually prioritize relationships rather than just prioritize the perception of them putting relationships first. It’s worth nothing to ask your workers for feedback if a decision has already been made or a leader has no intention of incorporating their feedback.

It helps to approach each conversation and interaction without assumptions about how they should turn out. Use your interactions to get to know your employee’s work styles, and try to listen as much as you speak. Your employees will take notice and be more willing to share things with you. In short, be kind and curious!


Any healthy relationship must allow both sides to put themselves in the shoes of the other. From a leader’s perspective, it’s important to remember that your employees see a side of the company you don’t. Situations may look different to them than they do to you, and their perspective is no less correct or valuable than yours or anyone else’s. 

The ability to see things from the employee’s point of view not only helps build your relationships, it’s an asset to your business’s bottom line too. A recent study found that empathy was the most important leadership skill in business. 76% of employees with self-reported empathetic leaders reported feeling consistently engaged at work as opposed to 32% of their counterparts without empathetic leaders. 61% of those in the first group also reported feeling innovative at work as opposed to only 13% in the latter group.

Frustration and conflict often form as a result of assumptions made about someone’s approach to an issue. If you’re having a difficult time understanding why someone is behaving the way they are, try to keep your mind open and encourage them to help you understand. You’ll also learn about yourself in the process.


While it’s true that respect should be earned, it’s also important to act respectfully from the beginning. Most people pick up on the amount of respect you show easily, and those who are offered respect are far more likely to offer it in return. Assume your employees are hardworking and knowledgeable about their positions unless proven otherwise. After all, you or someone you trust hired them.

Respect should also be balanced with confidence. As a leader, showing confidence in your team is a great way to boost company morale and display the respect you feel toward your employees. Often, you can turn your assumptions into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you show respect, people become happy to prove you were right to do so.


If you strive for the previous three ideas, trust will come naturally. It’s the glue that holds a healthy workspace together. Empathizing and showing respect with good intentions will make your employees trust you and be more willing to come to you with ideas and concerns. This openness will in turn boost your trust in your employees. If you do things right, everything will be on the table.

Hitting roadblocks

No matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitably struggle with an employee at some point. Maybe they aren’t willing to communicate as openly as you’d like, or maybe you sense them disengaging at work. In these situations, it’s easy to get frustrated. However, an authority-based approach might only make the problem worse, especially if you resort too quickly to disciplinary measures.

When dealing with difficult employees, it helps to frame the problem in a healthy, relationship-based way. Schedule a time to sit down with them and ask how they’ve been feeling at work. Ask what you can do to help them succeed. You might be surprised to find that the root of the problem is something far different than you assumed. It may have nothing to do with work at all. Your staff members are only human, and problems in their personal lives can affect their work behaviors.

Let Corporate Chaplains of America care for your team

Walking the line between personal and professional support for your staff can be tricky and time consuming. Often, business leaders find it’s helpful to offer employees third-party support to care for them while keeping a healthy level of professional distance. Chaplains are great resources to provide that care.

Corporate Chaplains of America offers in-person as well as 24/7 virtual chaplain services to you and your team members, so everyone can get the care they need when they need it most. Contact Corporate Chaplains of America today to learn more about what we can do for you to help your work relationships thrive.

Is your company culture holding your business back?

Download our informational PDF guide “The Company Culture Advantage” to find out how your team’s culture could benefit from a dedicated Corporate Chaplain.