Ignorance is not always bliss. Relationships are built on communication, whether direct or indirect, whether given or received. In personal and organizational environments, as leaders, honing our listening skills is critical to creating a culture that invites open communication. It is the responsibility of the leader to have his finger on the pulse of his followers at all times. An effective and respected leader knows when employees are troubled by work or personal issues. This knowledge is not known by being privy to the office “Buzz,” or from making frequent trips to the water cooler, but from his time spent and effort exerted to build relationships with his staff.
It was “Pay Day Friday”, and as was her custom, Marci was making the rounds, delivering paychecks to each of her employees. Bethany had been under her supervision for a short time and was as yet unaccustomed to this practice. Hearing the knock on her office door, Bethany responded, “Come in.” The door opened and Marci came in and handed Bethany her paycheck. Bethany accepted the check and thanked Marci. Marci immediately turned and replied, “No, thank you!” This was the first of many subsequent encounters that occurred every other Friday for the following three years.
Relationships are not static. “Relationships consist of cybernetic patterns of interaction in which individuals’ words and actions affect the responses of others.” They are constantly changing as they are negotiated over time as a result of the feedback received from previous communications. Authenticity in dialogue fosters mutual satisfaction in communication and is an essential part of establishing trust in relationships. Relationships are built based on individual behaviors within the relationship and navigated over time. The process of developing relationships requires listening and individual interaction and can be compared to peeling the layers of an onion. As trust is built, individuals allow themselves to become more vulnerable. They allow people to penetrate their outer layers and become more personal or intimate in their interaction. Littlejohn and Foss refer to the dialogue that happens during this process as “shared moments.” Throughout the dialogue that takes place during the ongoing process of relationship cultivation, the tensions created from oppositional views are managed and made cohesive as the negotiation process moves forward. An interesting dynamic that occurs in the process of peeling the layers of the onion and nurturing a mutually beneficial relationship is something called social exchange. The premise behind social exchange is cost and reward value. Every decision has a cost and reward. Each decision maker, whether follower or leader, must decide if the reward is higher than the cost and vice versa. For the leader it might be something like, “Will loving my employees as Christ loves the church, create a positive company culture?” “Is this effort worth my time?” “What does loving my employees look like and how can I create that authentically?” The employee might think, “Is it safe to open up to my supervisor and let my walls down?” “I’m not sure I want him to be in my personal business.” “Can I really trust that this is real and not some kind of control tactic that will end up hurting me later?”
Over the course of time, during a spontaneous conversation with Marci, while traveling to a meeting, the topic of the job interview process and questions came up. Bethany mentioned that there was a question from her interview from months earlier that still “stumped” her. The question was, “Why shouldn’t we hire you?” Bethany asked Marci how she would answer that if it was posed to her on an interview. Marci thoughtfully and authentically answered the question. They experienced a shared moment.
Showing genuine concern for employees’ issues and seeing them as individuals with strengths, weaknesses, skills and vulnerabilities is vital to acknowledging their value and empowering them. Entrusting power to subordinates encourages them to do their best work. Leaders who demonstrate that they indeed value their employees create an opportunity for staff to buy-in to the company mission, engage in the work, and help co-create what the organization is trying to accomplish. Respected, valued, empowered employees are creative, loyal, forward thinking, service oriented people.
As Marci and Bethany communicated directly and indirectly their relationship grew out of an established trust. Marci used listening skills and welcomed input from Bethany. Marci modeled Servant Leadership in several ways daily. When Bethany had a conflict with her young son being home alone for 30 minutes before she arrived, Marci negotiated a solution with Bethany that enabled Bethany to adjust her work schedule to remedy the issue. When Bethany lost her father and struggled in her grief, Marci shared comforting words from scripture and their shared personal beliefs. Bethany soaked up Marci’s wisdom and considered it a gift. When we look at Marci’s leadership and Bethany’s attitude and responses as a follower we see the layers of the onion peeling away. Vulnerability increased and trust grew as interaction occurred. The relationship was negotiated over time and social exchange was seen in the process.
There has been a shift toward wellness that has permeated the workplace as well as the personal lives of individuals. In our culture, people no longer consider that “making a living” and “bringing home a pay check” are all there is to the work they do. People spend the majority of their “awake” hours at work and they want and expect more. One of the ways in which these expectations and paradigm shifts have been addressed is in changes in leadership. Servant leadership is one way in which the needs of individuals in the workplace are being met. The premise of Servant Leadership focuses on followers first. By focusing on the follower first and building relationships, communication occurs and work environments are transformed. Servant leadership was modeled for us by Jesus in the New Testament and originally carried out by his disciples. We see it practiced in Matthew 28:18-20, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,’” in 2Timothy 2:2 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” This leadership model was successful then and is finally seeing a renaissance today as an “investiga[tive] focus returns to virtue theory,” and Servant Leadership again is considered a viable leadership option.
Leaders who model these behaviors will change the culture of their organization, one follower, and one relationship at a time.The organization will increase as each individual feels validated and supported. When genuine communication is spoken or acted out by the giver and received by the receiver, communication is complete. No “Buzz” required.
 (Stephen W. Littlejohn, Karen A. Foss, 2011, p. 230)
 Ibid., 230.
 Ibid., 253.
 Ibid., 236.
 Ibid., 236.
 Ibid., 246.
 Ibid., 236.
 (Winston, 2002, p. 10)
 (The Bible, NIV)
 (Kathleen Patterson, 2003, p. 3)
 (Patterson, K., Dannhauser, Z., Stone, A. G., 2007) and (Kathleen Patterson, 2003, pp. 9-10)