13 ways to grow relational capital

Brandon Andersen » Church Leadership Wisdom Coaching Community

As a leader, if you want your team to go from good to great, hard conversations are inevitable.

People will make mistakes, changes need to be made, and constant excellence can be an allusive goal. There are three factors in how those conversations will go: 

  1. What you say
  2. How you say it
  3. The amount of relational capital you have going into the conversation

The first two you can control in the moment, but the third takes time. What is relational capital? For this post, we’ll define relational capital as: the cumulative trust built up through positive interactions.

A culture in which people are pursued breaks down the power of sin.

Leaders must embrace a sincere pursuit of relational capital throughout their ministry or they may find themselves creating a culture of fear. Fear says, “Get it done or there will be consequences.” Relational capital says, “I care about you and your development, so I am willing to invest in a relationship that promotes trust, honest correction, and mutual respect so we can all pursue excellence together.” One must not be short-sighted in how they manage and develop those under their leadership, but anticipate the difficult conversations by depositing relational capital to everyone around them now.

Here are some ways to build relational capital in your team or organization: 

1. Start with God

If you want to be a good giver of love, it starts with being a good receiver of love. If you have been affected by the love of God to you, that should compel you to show the same love to others. It all starts with your relationship with God (1 John 4:7–12).

2. Build a culture of encouragement

An occasional “Good job” will eventually loose its potency. Be timely, specific, honest, and thoughtful in your encouragement, not only recognizing the task, but the gifts the person has. 

3. Show appreciation

You can truly never say thank you enough. Appreciation expresses value, which is a powerful affirmation for those on your team (Eph. 1:16).

4. Aim to correct in person

Not necessarily in everything, but any time a performance issue that can be tied to a heart issue, in-person is a far better communication method. Care doesn’t translate well through text. 

5. Clear the air

Don’t let conflict linger or things go unsaid. If there is conflict, don’t let it fester. Sin thrives in darkness—disarm it by bringing it in the light (Eph. 4:31–32).

6. Don’t just talk business

Leaders are often highly productive and focused on the task at hand. This can often lead to an unintentional neglect of the people around them. People follow leaders, not organizations, so let them see the whole you.

7. Bring humor into the workplace

Don’t take yourself too seriously. 

8. Don’t complain downstream

The leaders at the top of your ministry need the trust of those at the bottom, and that needs to trickle down through you. Complaining undermines the trust of those above you and potentially the whole organization. If you have conflict with someone, go to them (Matthew 18:15–17).

9. Admit mistakes

If you are in culture in which no one admits mistakes, fear will abound. This needs to start with the leaders so those under them will feel safe enough to take risks without fear of penalty. 

10. Allow for people to be heard

If there is no safe way to address issues, people feel trapped and become embittered.

11. Speak well of everyone

Perception is reality. When people hear you speak well of everyone in the organization, (especially the highest leaders) that creates a contagious culture of unity and love. 

12. Contain your frustrations

We are all sinners, and ministry is hard. We will all inevitably have struggles with other people and the work. It is good to have a select few mature, trustworthy people to help you process through these struggles in a way that doesn’t hinder the mission of the church.

13. Be mindful of the source of your frustration

Knowing my own pride, 99% of the time I am frustrated it is because someone assaulted my pride or my view of self. In your frustration, don’t react and vent to anyone with an ear to hear. This can do far more damage than you realize. 

Warning signs of a lack of relational capital

  • No one ever tells you you’re wrong. No one is perfect, and if no one tells you otherwise, they fear the consequences.
  • Conflict leads to division rather than unity. Conflict between two mature Christians who care about each other should result in a better relationship rather than a more division. 

Why this is so important

In the end, this is a lot more than a management technique—the enemy wants to destroy the church and halt its mission. Pride, entitlement, bitterness, confusion, and ultimately division are his weapons of choice, and the pursuit of relational capital a tool to combat that. 

A culture of love in which people are pursued by building relational capital breaks down the power of sin, and this leads to stronger relationships, higher morale, innovation, and a unity that is not easily undone. There is too much at stake to not work for this (Eph. 4:1–3, 15–16).

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