Leaders need a safe place and a community in which to be real. They have heavy demands and pressure on them from their workplaces to relationships and LeaderImpact provides a confidential haven with like-minded people. 

But, what is a “real relationship?" Why are some relationships so difficult? How do you find the balance between caring for your employees, for example, and performance expectations? What makes someone safe enough to have a “real relationship?" 

Think about the people in your life. If you were suddenly in trouble, either health-wise, or financially, or something in your home life was causing you deep pain, who would you call? Many leaders feel they don’t really have a need for people. They know that they need to get along with others in order to accomplish their goals, and they care in an objective and logical way, but they don’t feel that they have time for anything at a deeper level. 

The problem with this approach is, we are not made to go it alone. In fact, we are made to be in a relationship and to depend on each other, learn from each other, and grow together. 

We are not made to go it alone.

Here are several keys to being in real relationships:

Real relationships depend on safe people. So, it’s important to know how to identify safe people as well as how to be a safe person. Dr. Henry Cloud defines a safe person as, “someone who influences you to be the person you were designed to be.” That requires paying attention to others and noting their strengths and gifts and being encouraging. The people who have encouraged me most in my life and leadership are the ones who took the time to notice me. They were encouraging when they saw me using my strengths, and this gave them the freedom to challenge me if they needed to.

Real relationships are those in which you can let your guard down. Being vulnerable doesn’t come easy to some of us. This is in part due to how we grew up. If you were in a home where it wasn’t allowed, you may have a difficult time expressing anger, fear, or insecurity. Leaders of impact lead in this area by being vulnerable themselves. Theologian and professor Howard Hendricks was fond of saying, “If you want people to bleed, you have to hemorrhage.” It takes some wisdom to know how much is too much in terms of vulnerability. We have all been around people who don’t seem to have filters and say whatever is on their mind regardless of how inappropriate it is. But a leader of impact can be humble and share their struggles, encouraging others to do the same. What results is the encouragement that comes from having your burden shared by others.

Real relationships respect confidentiality. Being in a group of people who are vulnerable and caring for each other is great, until someone shares your private thoughts with someone else. This may seem obvious, but an expectation of confidentiality needs to be communicated clearly. 

If someone says or does something to hurt you, you feel they owe you, perhaps an apology or some sort of reparation for the damage they caused. Forgiveness is canceling the debt. 

Real relationships are characterized by forgiveness. Even in the best relationships, people sometimes hurt each other. Knowing how to really forgive is critical. When someone is offended, this creates a debt. For example, if someone says or does something to hurt you,  you feel they owe you, perhaps an apology or some sort of reparation for the damage they caused. Forgiveness is canceling the debt. Depending on how deeply people are hurt, it may be extremely difficult to forgive them. Here are some truths about forgiveness that may help. 

  1. Canceling the debt does not deny the past. Pretending that something didn’t happen is not going to help, so it is important that we acknowledge the offense. 

  2. Canceling the debt does not deny feelings. Telling ourselves to “just get over it” never seems to work. It is only after we have explored our feelings and become really self-aware that we can move beyond our hurt or pain.

  3. Canceling the debt does not deny boundaries. If we forgive someone for stealing from our company, that doesn’t mean we have to trust them with our accounts. If someone breaks a confidence and we choose to forgive them, we still may be hesitant to be vulnerable around them until they earn the right to be trusted again. 

It is probably obvious from these principles that forgiveness benefits the forgiver as well as the forgiven. Being unforgiving can really take a toll on our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Renowned theologian Lewis B. Smedes said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

Real relationships are mutually beneficial, rather than one sided. We are all on a journey of self-discovery and the best, and most real, relationships are the ones where all parties benefit. The best teachers are the ones who remain students their whole lives. The best leaders are the ones who keep learning how to lead from their peers, superiors or subordinates. 

Take some time to think about your relationships. Do you have safe people around you? Are you a safe leader for others? Can you be vulnerable and help others to be appropriately vulnerable as well? Do you have a place where you can share your thoughts and others will keep it confidential? Finally, is there someone you need to forgive, or someone you need to ask for forgiveness? These are pretty weighty questions, but things that leaders need to deal with in order to have maximum impact.


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