How big is your relational footprint?

Nelson Mandela has been in the news recently with concerns about his health. It has prompted some reflections about his contribution to modern South Africa. One article expressed it this way…

"Despite having left the South African presidency in 1999 and stepped out of public life nine years ago, the ailing Nelson Mandela is still a central figure in South African politics and society. Not because he may hold some power behind the scenes in the ANC, nor because he intervenes in political affairs. Rather it is due to the extraordinary relational footprint he has left in the nation."

The article went on to conclude that as result of the breadth and depth of this relational footprint …
"There is a magnetic power in this remarkable person; no wonder no one wants to let him go."1

This notion of a 'relational footprint' prompted thoughts about what kind of relational footprint we as leaders and coaches might be leaving in our own particular contexts. While few, if any of us, will have the leadership impact of Mandela there are lessons about leadership and influence that can be drawn from his experience… generosity of spirit, future focus, forgiveness… among other things.

On a similar theme Jane Dutton's work on 'high-quality connections'2 offers evidence-based 'relational footprint building' approaches that lead to vital, high-energy workplaces. Dutton's work highlights the importance of two broad approaches:

1. Respectful Engagement:

Ways of relating to others that send messages of value and worth. These include such things as: being present, genuineness, effective listening and affirmation.

2. Task Enabling:

Ways of interacting that facilitate another's successful performance. Here Dutton's research supported the value of various practices including, teaching (which includes both coaching and mentoring); designing (including arranging aspects of the job to help it be as motivating as possible to the person doing it); accommodating (modifying the way you might work to help others perform more effectively).

There are a couple of interesting points to note here:

  • Many of these practices, particularly those under respectful engagement are key coaching practices and skills
  • Approaches that impact on some of the 'system' issues are important
  • Leading well seems to include an increasing amount of high quality conversing and relating. A coaching style of leading is one way to do this more, perhaps one of the reasons why coaching has emerged as a such a key strategy in recent times

'High quality connections' are not necessarily lengthy or deep but they do contribute to growing the 'relational footprint' that leads to engagement, vital organisational energy and movement towards great results.

What might it take to grow the 'relational footprint' in your workplace context this coming month?


  • 1Friday Five: Stimulating relational thinking. Newsletter of Relationships Global. June 15, 2013.
  • 2Dutton, Jane, E. (2003).Energise Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work. San Francisco: John Wiley and Sons.