In contractual relationships, our primary concern is holding others accountable for high standards of performance. Effective contractual relationships require what we deal with others in good faith and that we assume full responsibility for performing our part of the arrangement. That is absolutely essential, but the normative trust and commitment of contractual relationships will never be enough to establish a high performance work environment.
Research has shown that only affective trust and commitment between leaders and followers produces the psychological safety requisite for people to apply the full potential of their heads, hands, and hearts to work. Building on a solid foundation of fair contractual relationships for everyone, high performance leadership moves to establish covenantal relationships with as many employees as possible.
Covenant promises require a different kind of trust, commitment, and leadership intimacy than do contracts. Contracts are the currency of bosses and subordinates; covenants the currency of partners. Interdependent partners in covenant relationship commit to enabling each other to keep promises established to achieve the vision, values, goals, and daily behaviors consonant with their shared purpose.
Unless and until you are willing to hold yourself accountable for performing your own job with distinction, walking the talk your employees value, and genuinely caring for those you’ve been given the privilege to lead, you will never master covenant leadership. You are not entitled to partnership; you earn partnership by first providing it to others.
“How can I help?” may be the single most important question you can learn to ask as a leader.
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