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Connection implies a sense of equality, in which you question how you’re coming across. Relational capital is built on the non-quantifiable feeling that people experience when they’re in your presence – the referent power for which Herb Kelleher was famous, and the self-management which catapulted him into the realm of most loved leader.     

Technology (and your tongue) are not tools to clobber other people. If the only time you communicate is to chew out your direct reports or to check up on them, what kind of persona are you creating? It’s the informal talks, the water cooler banter, and the peppered daily pleasantries that cement you as a caring person in the minds of your employees. “Relational capital” is therefore the currency which precedes you in future interactions.      

To build relational capital, try engaging in the following behaviors:      

  1. Be noble – consumed with a larger cause, as opposed to naval gazing on minutia that shouldn’t cross your radar. Let people know that you have something better to do with your time. Be sure to focus on the big picture, and to put things in perspective.
  2. Overlook unintended consequences. Often through no fault of our own (as a result of miscommunication, circumstance, or events beyond our control), things go awry. Using a sledgehammer when a velvet glove would have been more appropriate will quickly deplete your reserves of relational capital, and will magnify your flaws when you appear less than stellar. A supportive approach is likely to garner you the most points, and to build scaffolding from which to proceed forth. 
  3. Behave in a consistent fashion to enhance rapport among those you govern. Be someone on whom they depend, and not someone in front of whom they cower; someone they run toward, instead of someone from whom they sprint in the opposite direction. Feeling secure begins with knowing where you stand and trusting that you will not be unexpectedly surprised by a Jekyll and Hyde convert.
  4. Don’t select favorites. I imagine that when you need the support of the “hired hands,” you’ll find yourself on shaky ground. Relational capital is building goodwill through daily interaction with all individuals, and not simply a select few. You will not receive any special favors from those who are treated with disdain.
  5. Step out of your individual silo to become part of the larger relational fabric. Invite people to lunch, schedule informal gatherings after work, and involve the department in activities that involve something other than number crunching. 
  6. Avoid mean-spirited behavior (e.g., laughing at others, gossip, or name-calling). Be a person who is too sophisticated to make someone else feel second rate. You’ve entered the danger zone when arrogance precludes sound judgment, and when people feel pulverized in your presence. Behaving in a fashion that is small, petty, and uncivil does not define the other person; it instead defines you as a person devoid of substance. Belittling another person backfires in that it showcases your smallness.

Relational capital is the precursor to corporate ministry (helping behaviors), also known as organizational citizenship. Willingness to help is most evident when important outcomes like pay and promotions are decided and administered in a judicious fashion, and when managers respect their employees’ rights and encourage them to voice their opinions. Evolution in the use of social discourse enables those around us (and most certainly those who work for us) to exercise their prerogatives. Currently free speech occurs only in a handful of enlightened companies, and only in rare circumstances in those organizations which discourage its exercise.     

Representative actions that encompass corporate ministry include:     

  • providing assistance to one’s fellow workers
  • supporting a colleague who has been misaligned by his or her peers, and
  • helping  junior co-workers to establish a track record

Corporate ministry contributes to relational capital when it forms a strong sense of trust, loyalty, and reciprocity. The code of chivalry and the concept of courtly love is a spiritual, as opposed to a corporate union. It is a love without consummation, one that fosters the self-evolution that facilitates deep learning. Because these types of relationships are difficult to engender and to maintain, the “esprit de corps” for which Southwest Airlines is famous is indeed a rare form of competitive advantage.     

Organizations as a consequence may want to pre-select their employees “to see whether potential applicants are committed to courses beyond themselves” (Bolino & Turnley, 2003, p. 74). The heaven we create for ourselves will then consist of the measure of paradise that we obtain for our peers. When bilateral concern is the corporate norm, then organizations that positively contribute both to shareholder wealth and to the welfare of their workers will be an everyday occurrence.     



Bolino, M. C., & Turnley, W. H. (2003). Going the extra mile: Cultivating and managing employee citizenship behavior. The Academy of Management Executive, 17, pp. 60-73.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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