Trusting Relational Leadership

Shuler Cotton, 2016 Team Leader

Shuler Cotton, 2016 Team Leader

            I’ve looked to many people throughout my life for leadership and examples to follow.  Whether it was my parents, teachers, mentors, or sports coaches, I was always able to garner something from them that has contributed to my view of leadership.  I’ll start with my Dad. He’s one of the most influential people in my life.  He’s always been there when I needed him, and he really cares about how things are going.  One of his favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt, which I still think is a key component of relational leadership, reads, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  This is critical to my meaning of leadership and how I understand it.  Whether it was sports teams as a teenager, stepping up to take new roles in my family, or even leading new students around last summer, I always held that thought with me.  Knowing that I care is the easy part.  Showing that I care takes a little more risk-taking and vulnerability as an ISFJ.  Relational leadership seems so easy in theory; just get along with everyone, make a bunch of friends, and inspire them to do great things. However, as we know, it’s a lot harder than that. We seem to shy away from the moment when we think someone could use our help because we are afraid we might say the wrong thing and be judged because of it.  Yet, all of those anxieties would go away if we could trust what we’re doing.

            Another influential person in my life in terms of being a leader was my basketball coach.  On the court, he was one of the meanest looking guys you’d ever meet and worked us like dogs. On several occasions, I had basketballs being hurled toward me, or I was being yelled at like there was no tomorrow.  I loved him though. You know why?  We knew that he had our back, on and off the court. Off the court he showed us that he cared about us, and we could trust him. He created a family, not just a basketball program.  Our creed read, “demand commitment, deny selfishness, accept reality, yet seek constant improvement, all while promoting the good of the team above the self.”  The program and the family were always bigger than any one individual.  It’s still a code I live by that I think models servant leadership.  

You must seek the trust of the ones beside you and serve them to the point that you know it can’t be done alone.

            Long story made short, I transferred schools after my sophomore year when my family moved up the Charlotte area.  I thought I was going to be able to count on basketball during the move. Yet, after a few weeks with the new team, I knew that the coaching staff and the other players did not believe in the same principles of relationships and servant leadership.  The environment was different, and most people had a static set of principles and values that did not coincide with doing the right thing, togetherness, and trust.  Looking back, it really was a tough decision to make because I loved basketball so much, but I removed myself from the situation and found my niche and purpose for leadership elsewhere.

You must seek the trust of the ones beside you and serve them to the point that you know it can’t be done alone.  The “family” (whatever that means in context) must do it together.  That is where student leadership can create change within community -- providing examples to other students around them, getting them involved in whatever may be going on, and trusting that everyone is working toward a common goal, all while never “going rogue” and forgetting the ones beside them.  That is where the crossroads of servant leadership, relational leadership, and others meet.  


Reflection Question: How will you show that you trust whatever key principle of leadership YOU believe in and carry it out in interactions, experiences, and relationships?


-Shuler Cotton, 2016 Team Leader