What is the Relational Leadership Model?

Lindsay Rayner
Lindsay Rayner
Middle school principal; M.A. in Educational Leadership
Man talking to a groups of adults sitting in office chairs.

What is the Relational Leadership Model?

In schools, it all comes down to relationships, which is why the relational leadership model is so prevalent in education. The relational leadership model emphasizes the relationships among people when leading an organization. Relational leadership values inclusion, empowerment, purposefulness, ethical behaviors, and process orientation.

Inclusive leaders consider everyone’s viewpoint and experiences when making decisions. While the leader ultimately makes the final decision, all perspectives are weighed carefully.

Relational leaders empower others. They see the strengths and weaknesses of each member of their team, and work to build on strengths and improve weaknesses. The professional growth of others is important to a relational leader.

Relational leaders have a clear purpose, which they are able to communicate to others. Purposeful leaders begin with the end in mind; everything they do leads to a common goal.

Ethical leadership is an important component of the relational leadership model. This means setting a good example and always putting the values of the organization at the forefront.

Finally, a relational leader values the process, encouraging reflection and collaboration. A relational leader values calculated risk-taking, knowing it is for the growth and benefit of the group.

What are the Benefits of Relational Leadership?

A leader who considers everyone’s viewpoint may feel overwhelmed at first, but in the end they will be armed with all the information to make a sound decision. Listening to everyone’s viewpoint does not mean heeding every viewpoint. By listening, however, a leader is prepared for potential pitfalls in any plan, allowing them to address those pitfalls as they arise.

Empowering others makes them feel valued. Feeling worthwhile makes employees much less likely to seek work elsewhere and overall boosts morale. When employees stay loyal to a company, it allows for continuity of vision and knowledge necessary for an organization to thrive. By empowering others to be leaders in their own right, a relational leader is able to delegate certain tasks, making the organization run more efficiently.

Having a clear purpose allows everyone to work simultaneously for the same goal. This allows stakeholders to act as partners, rather than adversaries. When settling a dispute, a relational leader will seek to find the best solution for all parties, rather than simply trying to defeat an opponent. This approach avoids the distraction of constant conflict, allowing the team to focus on their purpose.

Ethical leaders engender trust in the people who depend on them. By establishing trust, leaders are able to convince others to follow them, even if the road ahead is difficult.

By being process-oriented, stakeholders are able to learn new things, through trial and error, that they may not otherwise have learned. This allows the organization to become better at their stated purpose, whether it’s raising money or student test scores.

Last but not least, relational leaders tend to be likable. Who wants to disappoint someone they like?

Ways to Implement Relational Leadership in Your School

A relational school leader seeks to gain the insight of all stakeholders. This might be a principal visiting teams of teachers on a professional development day to gain insight into how to improve school arrival and dismissal. It could also mean listening to the ideas of the parent group that would like to throw a tailgate for students, even if it’s never been done before.

A good school leader will empower teachers in the building to grow professionally and in their teaching practice. A leader may give teachers key roles in areas in which they excel. For example, a teacher who is passionate about character education may be empowered to deliver professional development around the topic.

A leader with relational leadership skills will connect everything back to the district’s central purpose, which is educating students. When implementing a new grading policy, for example, the principal connects the grading policy to the best way to communicate student learning. Knowing why they are implementing certain policies helps teachers stay on task and remain faithful to the philosophy of the district.

Ethical school leaders model the sort of behavior they expect from others. If they expect honesty from teachers and students, then a leader will admit if their new dress code was too restrictive or a mistake was the result of an oversight. This gives teachers trust in their leaders.

Process-oriented leaders encourage teachers to try new methods of teaching, knowing that even if the method fails, the teacher will have gained valuable insights into how their students learn best and how they can improve going forward. In a process-oriented building, teachers make progress because they aren’t afraid of failing in the process.

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