Beloved Leadership #2 - Prioritizing Relationships

Beloved Leadership #2 - Prioritizing Relationships

[This is article #2 in a series exploring how beloved leaders can apply and use the ideas from the book Beloved Economies by Jess Rimington and Joanna Cea.]

Prioritizing relationships does not mean doling out perks, bonuses, or hearty handshakes. It is an intentional move away from the transactional view of relationships that is part of business as usual - dropping the idea that who you know is the pathway to what you want.

Recently, I’ve become attuned to the commodification of trust that fundamentally undermines the prioritization of authentic relationships. It seems like everywhere you turn, leaders are bombarded with the advice that they have to “build up their trust bank” so they can “make a withdrawal” when they need something to happen or change. If trust is something to give and take, what does that say about the quality of that relationship?

Not that trust is the key indicator of a good relationship - it’s part but not the only part. You can prioritize relationships while getting to know people and deciding on the appropriate amount of trust, personal investment, and vulnerability you want to bring to the situation. Trust is one outcome of a strong relationship, but there is more to valuing a person and your relationship with them and more pathways to a strong relationship.

Rimington and Cea describe three factors contributing to prioritizing relationships: building a culture of care, welcoming brave conversations, and cultivating a relational worldview.

Building a culture of care starts with knowing your people. I appreciate that the authors clearly state that “how we express our whole person through the creative energy we inject into our work may look and be different from how we express our whole selves within friendships or family relationships.” Prioritizing relationships doesn’t mean everyone has to share their deep-dark secrets or jump into the deep end of vulnerable sharing with each other. People get to choose the whole self they bring to a situation, and whatever form that is can be prioritized in the relationship.

A culture of care means expressing care for people in your day-to-day actions, and the better you know your people, the more likely this is to happen authentically. We’ve seen fabulous fictional characters in recent times (Ted Lasso!) who thrive on building deep personal connections that, to some folks, seem egregiously disrespectful of personal boundaries. It can be a fine line between curiosity and prying. Getting to know your people is crucial to building trust, and taking folks at their word and not demanding intimacy from the start is a more likely way to get there.

Starting meetings with a check-in helps you get there. If this is a regular practice people expect, the results can be a rapid increase in the culture of care. Having a check-in question that goes too deep too soon is a classic facilitator mistake that results in people clamming up and erecting walls of suspicion. On the other hand, consistently superficial check-ins are a missed opportunity to get to know something meaningful about your people as a pathway to knowing them better and building trust. It’s not a transactional action - the purpose is connection for the sake of connection. Folks can feel the difference and avoid participating in heavy-handed check-in prompts.

The authors suggest options like: “What was a highlight of your weekend?” “What song do you know every single word of?” “Who in your life inspired you to do this work?”

Welcoming brave conversations means making sure there are containers for honest conversations. I love the line, “Prioritizing relationships means being tough on systems as opposed to tough on people.” What systems keep people from starting or engaging (aka listening to understand different feelings, priorities, and perspectives) during brave conversations? Maybe you need protocols or procedures for these conversations to happen so people feel supported in this type of engagement. Co-creating these containers is the best way to source a functional process teammates will buy into and use.

Cultivating a relational worldview means valuing interconnectedness and rejecting the commodification of trust and transactional views of relationships by realizing that your life and your world are not the only things that matter. Interconnectivity may involve non-humans, too. This could mean valuing connections to spaces, other creatures, rivers, mountains, and things like ancestors, legacy, and possible futures. Asking who and what is missing from the conversation (or impacts the work) is a way to broaden your ideas of connections beyond the people present. “...neighbors are the most important resource in building a community.” Who and what are your neighbors?

By prioritizing relationships, people can bring their best ideas forward and engage with their whole selves. Psychological safety - when team members feel able to take risks - is the term for the modern business world remembering that building strong relationships is the foundation of doing profoundly excellent work together.

The results of prioritizing relationships may be tangible via the intangibility of trust but more often approach the numinous. “In times of great challenge or opportunity, the quality of a group’s response depends on the quality of its relationships.”

What can you do as a beloved leader to deeply and authentically prioritize relationships?