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What exactly is a “Relational Leader”?

First, this is not an exclusive club for senior executives. Unlike many leadership models that focus on management and high-potential employees, anyone can be a Relational Leader. I have known and continue to marvel at the Relational Leaders I meet at all levels throughout companies and organizations. Second, a Relational Leader’s value proposition is to create a superior experience for others as the key driver of business performance. That experience can manifest from working on a corporate strategy all the way down to greeting someone who works in the company cafeteria. Finally, Relational Leaders “‘competitor-proof’” their organizations and themselves through a consistent, intentional focus on investing in the relational capital—the distinctive value created by people in a business relationship—needed to drive performance in today’s complex, quickly commoditized business environment.


Ultimately, a Relational Leader is anyone who intentionally puts the other person’s goals and values at the forefront of each business relationship, creating an exceptional experience for others. This principle is known as Displaying Worthy Intent and it allows Relational Leaders to create relationships that immunize them against all competitors both within and outside their organizations.


Displaying Worthy Intent

I call this principle The Relationship Engine because when we continuously drive outstanding

business relationships it demonstrates our willingness to actively do good for others with no hidden agendas. According to Chris Malone, managing partner of Fidelum Partners and coauthor with Susan T. Fiske from Princeton University of the groundbreaking book The Human Brand, “intent” is the underlying psychology and dominant factor that drives our behavior.

Malone cites that every year there seems to be some new theory of how the business and leadership world works. He asked me rhetorically, “How can all of these leadership ideas and theories all be true? What is the common thread?” He believes that Worthy Intent is the underlying psychology that allows all of the models to work. Once this foundation of Displaying Worthy Intent is established, there is no limit to what can be accomplished through a business or even a personal relationship.

What’s Missing?

So, why are some leaders missing the relational mark? Through many years of research into business relationships and working with more than 20,000 professionals and over 250 companies and organizations — my experience has shown me that there are five identifiable principles that lead to effective relationship development and, not surprisingly, superior performance. They are at the very heart of the practice of the most successful leaders at all levels in organizations and life. Through my experiences and research, I know they can be learned, practiced and improved bringing a surprising level of precision to relationships in organizations.

The Five Principles of the Relational Leader

1. Display Worthy Intent

2. Care About People’s Goals, Passions, and Struggles

3. Make Every Interaction Matter

4. Value People Before Processes

5. Connect Performance to a Purpose

Start driving your great intentions today!


Ed Wallace's new book, The Relationship Engine, Connecting with the People Who Power your Business, is out now!

"Relationships hold companies together and fuel future growth. From connecting with customers to forging high-performing teams, success depends on everyone working well together. Yet many leaders prioritize potential relationships and take established ones for granted. They shouldn’t. Research reveals that these core relationships are often the weakest…and can prove more vital than missed networking opportunities.Whether working with employees or associates, vendors or customers, The Relationship Engine gives you the tools you need to become an intentional, masterful relationship-builder."


Ed Wallace, MBA is an adjunct professor in Villanova's HRD program, and president and chief relationship officer of Relational Capital Group®. He is a critically acclaimed author of four books on relational capital – the latest, The Relationship Engine (AMACOM, 2016). Ed speaks for companies and organizations around the world with a client list that is a Who’s Who of Fortune 500 Companies. He can be reached at

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