I had a commanding officer who used to say to us "My job is to get you through this safely and alive. If by some chance we come out the other side of this friends that will be a bonus." I know the military often does not get credit for "progressive" leadership style but this man's statement really sums up the delicate balance that a leaders walks between role and relationship.
Perhaps because the stakes are always higher leadership in the military tends to be much more stark with regard to contrasting role and relationship. Role involves communicating objectives and tasks that must be accomplished and directing the group toward the attainment of those objectives. In the military there are therefore clear lines established for leadership roles. However and especially in the military, leaders know too that attainment of those objectives is difficult if not impossible without relationship.
I recall a scene from Henry V where on the night before the Battle of Agincourt Henry wonders the camp sitting at various fires, visiting with his troops and encouraging them. He knows that he is going to send many of them into harms way (his role) and yet sits with them to visit and in so doing provides a great example of how leaders create relationship with the team. In his speech the following morning Henry creates a "shared" experience or common bond with his group with these rousing words:
"But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."
Wise leaders know that often the bond of relationship will accomplish what the communication of objectives and tasks could not. For example, only a small percentage of learners are motivated by good grades and yet how many students have responded positively to that teacher who invested in them and showed they cared? I recall working with a company where the employees held their CEO with the greatest respect. It was hard for me to make the linkage initially until one day one of the supervisors shared that during one particularly tough period in the companies history it became known that the CEO had bankrolled several pay periods out of his own pocket in order to keep everyone going. His commitment to his employees went even beyond that and included making sure the company gave to causes that were important to them. Rarely have I been in a place where universally there was such high regard for the leader and a collective willingness to accomplish the objectives set before them.
As a leader you have a role. In that role you will have targets, objectives and measures that you and your team need to accomplish. There are many methods available to you for doing this but the "gas" that makes that truly happen will be the effort you put into creating relationship with your team that is at once professional and meaningful. Professional with regard to striving to accomplish the goals set before you and meaningful in the sense that your team will know their value in your eyes and "want" to perform for you.