Leadership and Relationships: The Two-Way Street

Dr. John Townsend

May 11, 2017

I was talking with a CEO of a company and finding out how he was doing in his business and his life. I asked him, “How are things going in your personal relationships? Do you think you have enough good quality connections?”

“Sure I do”, he answered. “I’ve got some really great friendships.”

I said, “That’s great. Now, how many of those friends would you say are acquainted with your personal needs, dependencies and weaknesses?”

He was a thoughtful person, and after a pause, said, “Well, actually probably none. I mean, I enjoy spending time with them, and also helping support them in their lives. But that personal stuff is a little hard for me.”

I said, “Then this is probably a good growth point for your own work and life. You need some two-way relationships, that is, people who open up to you, and people to whom you open up.”

The conversation went on, but the man understood where we were going, and got the message. He went to work on his two-way relationships, and I think prevented a lot of train wrecks in his life and career.

Leaders are a special group of people, and many leaders share a common weakness: they tend to be better givers than receivers. That is, the role of leadership often has the power to skew you toward being too focused on providing support, help, encouragement and grace to others, while neglecting your own needs and life.

There is certainly a lot that is good about being a giving person. It is the model of God as giver of Life; and the second greatest command is to love others as ourselves (Matt. 22:39). But at the same time, we can’t give to others what we don’t possess. You can’t provide from an empty cup: “…what do you have that God hasn’t given you?…(I Cor. 4:7, NLT).”

Just as those people you care about in work, family in life, you also need the ingredients of help that you provide for them. Here are a few to look at, and ask yourself, am I requesting, and receiving these, as well as providing them?

  • Grace: someone being “for” you, and on your side
  • Love: someone you can go to when you’re feeling down, lonely or isolated
  • Acceptance: someone knowing your faults and weaknesses and cares about you anyway
  • Safety: someone who won’t judge or condemn you, but will understand your failings and walk alongside you
  • Comfort: someone who will pick you up when you are discouraged
  • Truth: someone who will give you feedback and guidance when you need it.

This is often a little tough for leaders to go out and develop. You might wonder if you’ll be seen in a negative light by others, or if somehow needing these elements will disqualify you from leadership. You may even think leaders need to be strong all the time.

Check these perceptions out with a healthy, growing leader whom you respect and admire. My money will be on the probability that they will tell you, “It’s just the opposite. A large part of my success is due to my having people in my life that I open up to. It gives me strength, acceptance, motivation and direction.”

So look around in your life and start adding another direction to those one-way, all-giving relationships in your life and work! God bless

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