Relational Leadership

Traditional approaches to leadership focus on how an individual leader can develop and maintain cooperative relationships. An alternative view of leadership describes it as part of the evolving social order that results from interactions, exchanges, and influence processes among many people in an organization. Relationships are acknowledged as an important aspect of leadership in much of the literature on the subject.

According to this alternative perspective, leadership can be understood as a part of the dynamics of the social system in which it occurs (Dachler, 1992). Instead of the traditional focus on a single leader, this approach posits that social processes and patterned relationships can explain how collective activity can accomplish shared objectives. Organizations and other social entities, such as teams, coalitions, and interest groups, are defined more by the web of interpersonal relationships than by formal charters, structures, policies, and rules. These relationships are continually being modified as changing conditions elicit adaptive responses.

Strategic leaders consistently influence relationships and are expected by others to have this influence (Hosking, 1988). They interpret events, explain cause-effect relationships in a meaningful ways, and influence people to modify their attitudes, behavior, and goals. Individuals develop and use social networks to gather information and build coalitions to increase their influence over decisions (Balkundi & Kilduff, 2005).


Balkundi, P., & Kilduff, M. (2005). The ties that lead: A social network approach to leadership. Leadership Quarterly, 16(6), 941–961.

Dachler, P. (1992). Management and leadership as relational phenomena. In M. V. Cranach, W. Doise, & G. Mugny (Eds.), Social representations and social bases of knowledge (pp. 169–17). Lewiston, NY: Hogrefe and Huber.

Hosking, D. M. (1988). Organizing, leadership, and skillful process. Journal of Management Studies, 25, 147–166.