by Caitlin Meadows

Standing in my next class’ doorway to hide from the wind, I first interacted with someone who would leave a tremendous impact on my life. As a senior in high school I rarely interacted with the freshman. However, since our private Christian school was small and I’m a people watcher, I was aware of them. Little freshman Anna was always smiling. She’d often come into the office during my T.A. period and have all the office staff laughing as she waited for a band-aid or something one of her teacher’s needed. At 14 years old, she was already a relational leader without even knowing it.

Relational vs Positional Leaders

There are two types of leaders, explains Israel Steinmetz in the latest Artios Leadership Conversations video. The first type is a positional leader. This includes those who possess official titles that come with a level of authority. Teachers, pastors, and managers are all examples of positional leaders. When one thinks of a leader, it is usually in this context.

The second type is a relational leader. The relational leader doesn’t possess an official title or authority. However, through doing life together, trust is established and influence is made. Though we often think of leaders in terms of their position, it is those with whom we have personal relationships who have the greatest influence on us. The relational leader usually leaves the most significant impact. As followers of Christ, this is a big deal.

A Story of Relational Leadership

As I waited for the lunch period to end and class to start, little Anna was walking along with a friend and complaining of the cold wind that day. Out of character for me, I fed off of her fun-loving energy and exclaimed with arms wide open, “I’ll be your heater!” Even now, thirteen years later I feel a little embarrassed telling this story. How weird was I? Yet, with little Anna it wasn’t weird. As if we’d always been friends, she gave me a big hug and we laughed. Just like that, our friendship began.

Friendship and mentorship.

Initially, I viewed our relationship through the eyes of a mentor. Our Christian school emphasized the value of discipling those younger than us and Anna was eager to soak in whatever influence she could. She was (and is) contagious to the core. Though I quickly learned that this free-spirit was a beautiful disaster [ref]A song she identified with as a teen.[/ref], her heavy issues weren’t burdensome. To the contrary, walking through her struggles with her challenged and grew me.

What I didn’t expect, perhaps naively, was that I wouldn’t always be Anna’s mentor. In fact, my season as her mentor was quite brief. Very quickly little Anna became my mentor. For the past thirteen years, Anna and I have discipled each other. Through attending different colleges, pursuing different careers[ref]Fun fact: Though our career paths differed, we both have ended up as work-from-home-moms writing for online ministries[/ref], living thousands of miles apart, getting married and starting our families, and so many little things that at the time felt so big – our friendship has not just lasted but grown and deepened. Why? Because of Jesus.

Her relational impact.

Anna is one of the most influential people in my life. Watching her overcome her broken past [ref]Anna was adopted at birth and was deeply troubled by all of the unknowns that come along with adoption.[/ref] by eagerly surrendering her life to Jesus inspires me every day. Because Anna doesn’t stand for any shadows in her heart. When there is sin to be dealt with she repents, wrestling with the Lord until it no longer has a hold on her. And when it comes to our friendship, she is fearless. I can count on her to never sugarcoat anything. When my attitude and choices aren’t lining up with the truth of God’s Word and God’s character, she lovingly calls me out. Anna challenges me and reminds me that my life doesn’t depend on my own strength but on the enabling strength of my Savior. And she reminds me that I am re-created and called by Christ to influence those around me for His Kingdom and His glory.

Relational leadership is trust, accountability, honesty, respect, and love.

Anna and I know that our friendship was orchestrated by God. Because of Him, it is built on mutual trust, humble accountability, fearless honesty, growing respect, and unconditional love. The older we become and the more chaotic we realize this world is, the more thankful we become for the gift of this friendship. I am blessed by the influence little Anna has had on me. [ref] Another fun fact: Our other best friend who is a year older than me is also named Anna. To this day, I still differentiate the two by referring to the younger as “Little Anna”. She doesn’t mind![/ref] Without her, I would not be where I am or the person I am. God has used her and her relational leadership to grow my relationship with Him. How can leadership get any more awesome than that?

Relational leadership is a big deal.

Who pops into your mind as you read this? Which person in your life has significantly impacted you and your relationship with the Lord through relational leadership? Now consider this: who have you or are you impacting in this way?

By virtue of doing life with others, you have relational influence. You are a leader right now, where ever you are, whoever you are with. Through Christ you are re-created and called to influence others for Him and His Kingdom. Thankfully, this influence isn’t complicated; it’s as simple as friendship. In the mundane of daily life, it’s too easy to lose focus or lack intention when it comes to how we relate to others. But when we look at life through the lens of the Kingdom, relational leadership – everyday Christian leadership – really is that big of a deal.