The Value of Relational Intelligence

A new way for leaders to understand the people around them
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A New Way of Being Smart

I didn't know a name for what happened that night, but the fact is, I didn't have any relational intelligence. I tried to create a meaningful moment without doing the work of cultivating the relationship. I attempted to force something that the relationship wasn't ready for. My motives were selfish, and my awareness of her emotions and own desires was not even considered. Not to mention that my approach was awkward, insensitive, and foolish.

My lack of relational intelligence in that moment reflects a bigger reality that has a profound impact on leadership, for better or worse. As leaders, our capacity for relational intelligence can be the cause of both our failures and our successes. One mistake can do enough damage to dissolve a relationship. In one instant, we can destroy what's taken years to build. If you have experienced what it feels like to be the victim of someone else's lack of relational intelligence, you know exactly what I mean.

For instance, instead of trying to resolve conflict appropriately, maybe someone verbally attacks you, and as a result your relationship implodes. Or maybe someone makes you believe that he or she is trustworthy, but then violates that trust and wounds you deeply with harsh or inappropriate words. Or maybe you follow someone's leadership because you believed in the person, but when you needed him most he abandons you and leaves you to fend for yourself, thus breaking up your relationship.

In contrast, a person with a high level of relational intelligence knows how to resolve conflict in a healthy manner that fosters the strength of a relationship rather than breaking it down; she earns your trust and is able to sustain it by being a person of integrity and love, and she appreciates your faithfulness to her and in turn is faithful to you when you need her.

As leaders, our intentions are often sincere in wanting to help people move forward, or take a team or group to the next level. But sometimes we don't know exactly how to accomplish our goal. We want to create meaningful moments, but we sometimes end up saying or doing the wrong thing, even when our intentions are good and sincere. As we push people to make progress and pursue a greater purpose, sometimes we find that we're too impatient to do the work of cultivating the relationship that will help them succeed. As leaders, we can sometimes see relationships as simply a means to an end, and this inevitably short-circuits the process needed to apply and implement relational intelligence in our everyday lives and leadership.

What if cultivating smarter relationships became a more integral part of how we approach leading others? What if we focus on the quality of our relationships, which sometimes can be the harder way, but trust that this is also the better way? What if we learn how to create meaningful moments more effectively with others by engaging relational dynamics differently than we have previously done, building trust and credibility that lasts?

Our ability to forge healthy relationships is increasingly critical to our leadership effectiveness. In the past, authority and credibility were built on status, power, or position, but in today's world it's built on relationship and trust. To be relationally intelligent, we must shift from a positional authority mindset to the crucial leadership mindset of relational authority. If we want to move forward in expanding our influence, we must ensure that the foundation of relational intelligence is built. And then we'll be on our way toward cultivating a new way of being smart.

—Steve Saccone serves as a catalyst in an international faith community in Los Angeles known as Mosaic. Article excerpted from Relational Intelligence, by Steve Saccone (Jossey-Bass, 2009); reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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