How to be a leader? Here is an important starting point.

How to be a leader begins with one critical component. To be an effective leader, create and nurture high quality interpersonal relationships with followers. Reasearch has documented numerous benefits when leaders consistently use this skill.

For detailed information the benefits of good communication, click here. For an overview of benefits, scroll down.


The journal Leader's Work details the studies on what academics call leader-member exchange, that is, communication between leader and staff. Click on the link above for the detailed research on this soft power skill.

Want to be a leader? Think soft power

High quality relationships between leaders and members generally result in increased productivity, going the extra mile for the leader, and to a lesser extent going the extra mile for the organization. Employees tend to generalize their impression of immediate managers to judge the whole company Employees who have a good relationship with their immediate manager tend to see the company in a positive light. These employees generally are:

  • More productive
  • Willing to help others
  • Take on more responsibility
  • Better ambassadors for the company

Positive working relationships (high LMX) are developed when managers tend to:

  • Adapt their communication style to the needs of each direct report
  • Develop and build strengths in each direct report
  • Build trust through consistency and follow through
  • Reward informally and formally

Work by Gallup organization has amply researched and documented the impact of strengths conversations on the bottom line. Employees who have the opportunity to use their strengths daily are significantly more engaged. They are also more productive and contributed more strongly to the bottom line than employees who don't have that same opportunity to use strengths.

While this soft power approach contributes to the bottom line, companies continue to select managers based on seniority and technical expertise rather than their ability to develop productive relationships. In recent studies by Gallup, the overwhelming majority of managers said they were promoted to management because of their success in a non-managerial position or tenure. The study further noted that only 1 in 10 managers possesses the key talents for management and another 2 in 10 possess some key talents. Those key talents are: Accountability, Relationships, Motivator, Decision Making, and Assertiveness.

Clearly, there is a direct map from the LMX data to the management talent. Adapting communication style is part of relationship building. Consistency and follow through are part of accountability. Rewarding appropriately is a component of motivation.