4 Keys to Relationally Based Leadership

Leadership is a complex subject that requires a lifetime of continued learning. It requires constant practice, learning from mistakes and the willingness to take risks. 

Leadership is influence. It is about inspiring people to a purpose that results ultimately in their best interest, both here on earth, and for eternity.

Thousands of books have been written on leadership, but if I had the assignment to teach leadership in 4 words, here’s what they would be.

Heart -> Connect -> Trust -> Follow

These four words provide a foundation for relationally-based leadership that when connected to a vision, will serve any leader well.

Here’s a summary.

If you lead with your heart, people can connect with you. If people connect with you, they will trust you, and if they trust you, they will follow you. 

Now read the summary again with the reverse perspective for even greater clarity and insight.

People will not follow anyone they do not trust. They cannot trust someone they don’t connect with, and they can’t connect with someone with whom they cannot find their heart.

This is obviously not a comprehensive approach to leadership, however, the concepts and principles embedded within these four words, in the order they are placed, serve as a clear and tested primer for leadership. If we focus on the simple but timeless insights, they help us avoid mistakes, focus on character, and improve in skill.

Let’s break it down.

Leadership in Four Words:


All leadership begins at a heart level. This is not meant to be a complex thought. It’s not lofty or ethereal. Leading from the heart is nothing more and nothing less than being yourself and caring about people.

Leading from the heart requires that you are self-aware. It’s important that you know who you are, how God wired you, and His purpose for you.

Leading from the heart requires that you can rise above your fears and insecurities. We all have them. The thing that sets you apart as a leader is whether those fears and insecurities manage you or you manage them. Successful leaders acknowledge fear and insecurity but work hard to rise above them. In time, both can be greatly minimized.

This allows you to become comfortable with who you are, and find your strength in God rather than in pleasing people through performance.


When you are comfortable being you, the real you, people will like you best. Like I’ve written before, not everyone will like you, but they enjoy you most when you are authentic. This allows genuine connection to take place.

The fears and insecurities I mentioned cause you to self-protect, and self-protection prevents connection. Some of the godliest and well-intended leaders I know unintentionally attempt to hide rather than be real. That never works.

It’s ironic I know, Christ has come to set us free, and perfect love casts out fear, but “hiding” is a potential reality for anyone who leads. It’s not always easy, but trust God who made you, in order to become the very person He created you to be.

Leadership begins at the place where we connect with others at a heart level. This invites joy into the process and leadership becomes fun.


When you lead from the heart and connect with others, you establish a basis for trust. The consistency of your character enables that trust to deepen and flourish. And the deeper the trust, the greater the commitment of those who follow your leadership.

That’s why it’s so devastating when trust is broken. *Broken trust hurts all relationships, and especially those connected to leaders. Whether you are leading your family, a company, or leading in a church, it’s personal. People have bought into you, your heart and your leadership. They connected with you and gave you their trust.

As leaders we make mistakes, disappoint people, and sometimes fail, but we can live a life of character that does not break trust.

If trust is broken, most of your energy is transferred to repairing that trust, and that can be a long road to travel depending on the severity of the breach of trust.

When trust is solid, your leadership has the potential to flourish, allowing the people you serve to continue to grow in their faith and in turn serve others.

Protect this sacred trust at all costs.


Followership now becomes practical. Give people a vision worth following.

They have your heart, connect with you, and have extended trust. They are willing to follow, but not for long if you don’t have a vision, or if you are not helping lead the church’s vision.

Even trusted leaders can lose influence if they don’t have a clear vision for the people to follow.

You’ve got to know where you’re going and have a general idea of how to get there.

This does not mean you have all the answers, but includes a strategic plan of some kind. Not a long and complex plan, but one that is clear, actionable and measurable. And remember, while the vision remains the same, the plan will morph a little as you encounter and solve problems along the way.

Yes, those who follow you buy into you, but since the purpose of the church is about something much greater, keep the focus on the church’s mission, not your own.

Let’s go back to insecurities for a moment.

When a leader is insecure, there is great temptation to make leadership about themself and not the mission. That’s a dangerous place to be because even though innocent, this can eventually break trust.

This is revealed when, regardless of how subtle, decisions favor the leader(s) and not the people.

The people you lead are highly intuitive. They may not know what they are feeling, but if something is off, they will begin to pull back.

If that happens, the best remedy is to go back to the beginning and start with the heart. Honesty and authenticity can restore most situations. That helps restore the connection, and in time trust can be rebuilt.

There is, of course, much more to leadership, but these four words can serve you well for a lifetime.

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This article originally appeared on DanReiland.com and is reposted here by permission.

Dan Reiland
Dan Reilandhttp://danreiland.com

Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and the author of several books including Confident Leader! Become One, Stay One (Thomas Nelson).