When Relationships Hurt Your Leadership

Leadership is about connecting and building relationships with people so you can influence them toward a common vision. However, not all relationships are created equally. This is because some relationships allow you to thrive forward and others can damage or hurt your leadership. The people who can hurt or cause harm to you and your team include:

  • People who are on the team but do not want to take the journey with you or move toward the vision.
  • People who refuse or have no desire to grow, learn, or change.
  • People who have a negative attitude or bad mindset about life.
  • People who don’t have a strong work ethic.
  • People who have no desire to positively influence those around them.
  • People who have weak character or integrity.
  • People who are not team players and only want personal success or recognition.

It’s important for a leader to care about and show grace to everyone but at some point one has to evaluate the person and effect that person has on the team to determine if the person should stay on the team. If you are not in a role that allows you to make this decision you should set boundaries between you and the other person so you can limit the amount of time you spend together.

In place of those who hurt or negatively impact your leadership chose the right people to associate with and place on your team. I have found at least 3 types of relationships you should have which can maximize your leadership and be valuable to your team. They include:

1. Inner circle members- Every leader should have a small group of inner circle members who provide guidance, wise advice, and nourishment. These are people who support and stay with you through the different seasons of life and leadership. They have your best interest in mind and do whatever they can so you will be successful.

2. Supporters- These are people outside of your inner circle but who are still closely connected with you. They bring support to you through their commitment and dedication to your message, dreams, vision, and leadership. Supporters can include a family member, follower, fan, employee, or a person in your tribe. Every leader needs supporters around them.

3. Lifters- Lifters are people who lift your leadership and what you are doing to the next level. They provide a positive attitude, energy, and optimistic viewpoint. When they are around they help create a desirable and enjoyable work environment. This can help produce better results that lead to achieving goals and the vision.

Questions: What are some other reasons why a relationship can hurt you or your leadership? Can you add to the list of relationships that would help and add value to us?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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72 thoughts on “When Relationships Hurt Your Leadership

  1. Part of great leadership is the ability to turn those negative nancies into positive contributing members of the team. That said, you have to know when someone is poison. So another part of leadership is the ability to handle the situation with class. Firm, direct, and honest is the way to go.


    • So true, the best case scenario is to turn those people around so they can stay on the team but when we know they won’t change that’s when we must make the hard decision to let them go. Great last sentence! Thank you for reading and taking the time to share.

  2. Love the idea of equipping yourself with those positive influencers in life. Leaders must also be cautious of those relationships brought into a function. Friendship or personal history with a team member may be beneficial when you need him or her to contribute more and may even manifest as great team chemistry. It can also cloud your judgment and manifest as bad personnel decisions or obvious favoritism.

    We want to build positive and productive relationships. In these cases,, no party feels beholden to the other and there is little threat that friendship will get in the way of performance– or vice versa!

  3. Lack of transparency and “empty promises” can harm us and our leadership. Some of the most inspirational leaders of our time have gone through amazing hardships and have become invaluable leaders as a result. Awesome post!…:-)

    • Great additions Micky. Being authentic and transparent is so important for leaders. It’s amazing how hard or difficult times can build us up if we allow it to. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

  4. What I like about true “inner-circle” people is being able to trust their input, feedback, and criticism. There are times when we need a little help seeing the big picture, or what reality is – not always what’s in our mind. Another positive about supporters is that they can help influence and share your message/mission/change effort. They believe in you.

  5. People who are “stuck” can hurt leadership. My last job before taking the freelance writer plunge surrounded me with “stuck” people. Not only were they unwilling to grow, but they didn’t know they had a problem. They held most, some held all, of the items you list in your post, but they had no idea they were the problem. They justified everything that they did. The place was suffocating. As I read through the types of relationships that benefit, I thought of many examples in the Bible of what you described (Moses, Paul and of course Jesus). Would be a cool study to lay their relationships out in the categories you described. I might add mentors or accountability partners. Yes, they are inner circle but almost the inner of the inner circle. Perhaps I’m just getting at a detailing out of the 3 categories you mention.

    • Great addition Kari, “stuck” people can cause us to become “stuck” if we are not careful. Great example from the Bible! I might have to write a post on relationships from the viewpoint from some of those people. You have me thinking:) Mentors are so important when it comes to reaching our potential and allowing us to become better. Thank you for reading and adding to the conversation.

    • Kari your experience reminds me poetry,It says, there are four groups: First group knows they know, thus their achievement will be extraordinary. Second group does not know they know, thus they need someone wakes them up. Third group knows they do not know, thus they can move toward goals slowly. Last group does not know they do not know, therefore,
      they were stuck in sleep forever.

  6. I guess all of the relationships need to be vision sharers. If they don’t have the same goals then they all fall into the bad relationship category. I think the biggest one you mentioned though is the ones who lack character. Without that there is no entry into the circle!

    • I agree Floyd being around people with the same or similar vision, mindset, and who are founded on character is so essential. Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  7. Over the years I’ve come to realize God really does give us what we need, when we need it- this includes relationships. There are some relationships that have lasted over the majority of my life and others that have come and gone in brief moments of time, but regardless of the length, they were/are exactly what I need when I need it.

    Trusting God is key!

    • You’re right. Trusting God is perhaps most important yet often undermined when thinking about connecting and building relationships. These days there’s lots of books and literature around the strategies and tactics of building relationships. I also find myself relying on these avenues more than I should sometimes. Ultimately, it’s a gift from God and I need to steward those relationships to further His kingdom.

      • I think we all are guilty of this to some degree, Paul. There’s great literature out there, but nothing replaces the Word of God…yet we often forget or undervalue it. Realizing this is the first step to intentionally placing God’s word higher in our lives.

        Thanks for your honesty, it helps us all to be honest with ourselves and each other.

        Have a great weekend.

    • Great point TC Avey! Knowing God has His best for us and will supply everything we need is important to remember (for every area of our life). Thank you for sharing that wise point with us:)

  8. I thank God for my inner circle of friends. I can call them for advice, support, opinions, counsel and a shoulder to cry on. They have helped me through some difficult times. I know that having a strong inner circle is key an effective life.

  9. What I have heard is that you always want to be at the bottom of any group or mastermind. Because if you are at the top you will cease to strive to learn anything more than what you already know. So its best to remain at the bottom of a group so that you can be continuously learning and striving for more.

    • It’s also a mindset as well. When you think your’e at the top, that signals something wrong. This may suggest your current condition of your heart: how prideful you are. Anyone who has a mindset for continuous learning can learn from people who are less experienced or younger. I know some leaders who are well-established as a thought leader yet I find their humility compelling as they often say how much they learn from babies. But, to your point Lincoln, I definitely agree that you need to surround yourself with people who are willing to learn and push to grow. This culture creates a synergy effect.

  10. Iron sharpens iron. The more I study leadership, the more I learn that leadership is about “we” instead of “me.” No leader has ever achieve anything by himself or herself. I feel I am blessed to have people who are in those three category. Before I had the leadership mindset, I was fixated on building more supporters, and inner circles, and lifters, but now I’m trying to reach out to those in and outside my community and be one of their inner circle, lifter, and supporter.

    • Hello Paul,

      Great passages!!! That’s an essential mindset to have if we want to do anything or achieve anything significant in our life. I think having and being a inner circle person/supporter/lifter is important. It’s something we should have and also something we should offer to the right people. Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion.

  11. This is such an important topic. Insecure people and workaholics I would add to the list. Insecure people can easily become jealous and may try to hold you back. Workaholics may expect you to live as they do to justify their choices. This is a particular problem if they’re your boss.

  12. I think boundaries around negative people is huge – especially when a leader is trying to keep his/her team moving forward. One negative person can really have a disproportionate impact on the entire organization.

    • I agree Tom. It’s important to have boundaries with those who might hold us or our team back. Thank you for reading and adding to the conversation.

  13. It was good discussion; however, it focused more on
    relationship with subordinates. Sometime you deal with other leaders that have
    negative attitude and you have to work with them, what we should do in this

    • Hello Ali,

      Yes, that was my main focus. Good question. The best thing we can do when dealing with a bad or negative leader or manager is to lead our self well. When we lead our self well we will continue to produce results and be productive. This can allow for less negative focus on us and also might get the attention of upper management. The other option is to find a new job:) Hope that helps. Do you have a site or blog?

      • Thank you Dan. I agree leaving the job is good solution, when negative leader has influence on top manager. However, I think the main characteristic of a leader should be embracing challenges. Dan, I do not have a site or blog. Thanks for creating professional network in leadership topics.

        • Great point. Sometimes the best teaching comes from observing what not to do as a leader/manager. Embracing through might just allow us to learn something valuable. Well, thank you for taking the time to discuss this topic. I hope to hear from you again.

  14. I think a lot of the toxicity is sourced in (1) selfishness and/or (2) fear.

    Selfish folks don’t care about the team and even if they are high producers on an individual level, in the long run they can be a leach on the organization because they are siphoning off the talents and energy of others to fulfill their own agenda.

    Fearful folks tend to lean into comfort. Even if they care about others they will hold back on growth opportunities and new challenges. This too hurts the team.

    This is by no means comprehensive. But I’ve witnessed these two negative character traits create a lot of strife. On the positive side, I have worked with people in both of these camps, who when lovingly lead and held accountable, have grown leaps and bounds.

    • Hello Sean,

      Those are two dangers characteristics. They can have a huge effect on the team and organization. Glad to have your share you thoughts here. Thank you.

  15. Great post, Dan. I especially love your thoughts on lifters. I strive to be a lifter for every leader I can help. I have never used that term before, so thank you for articulating it.

    • Hey Kent,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! It’s important for leaders to be lifters to others. Your a lifter to so many other people, keep supporting and lifting others up!

      Feel free to use the term as your own:) Thank you for reading and adding to the conversation.

  16. Dan,

    We need to be on the look out for those who only tell us what they think we want or need to know. Leaders must also make sure they create an environment where people can speak truthfully out of respect without fear of retaliation.

  17. Ah – this brought back bitter-sweet memories of my years in operational management. When you have people in your team generating negative energy, it can be very hard and it’s really important to have those positive influencers to support you and counter-balance their impact. I think I’d perhaps add ‘challengers’ – though that may be what you mean by lifters – you need people who will challenge you to step out of your comfort zone. Nice post, Dan, raising some important points.

    • Hello Sue,

      Great points about “challengers.” The type you decried are important to have around us. Thank you for sharing from your experience. I appreciate it.

  18. Hi Dan, Wow this brings back some memories for me too. I cannot think of any other reasons why a relationship could hurt a leader. You have a good list there. I like your explanation on lifters and yes we certainly need them. Great post Dan

    • Hello Sue,

      I hope those memories aren’t too bad:) Supporters and lifters greatly help us along our journey. Thank you for taking the time to read and add to the topic.

  19. We tend to be quick to hire (or bring someone on the team) and slow to hire (get rid of the toxic relationships), and it really can hinder our leadership. When we understand the importance of the leadership team, however, it makes it easier to fire when there isn’t a good fit.

  20. Those who refuse to grow / learn / change usually do so because of problems with ego. If my experience in life (while short) has taught me anything, it’s that ego will be the downfall in ANY category and leadership especially. Great post, Dan

  21. I think one strategy for dealing with these people to understand who are the influencers in your group. Before you distance yourself from someone who is negative, I think perhaps you could try to gently correct them and get them turned back the right way.

    • What a great point Loren. Find the influence is essential when it comes to any needed corrections. I agree, It’s important for a leader to be a coach and support to everyone and not turn their back on the person right away. Thanks for bring that up!

  22. This reminds me of that old saying of you’re only as strong as your weakest link. When a team member isn’t working up to the rest of the team, you have a weak link going on.

    I think people who are negative, have a bad work ethic or refuse to change are bad for leadership because it can reflect poorly on you. If you’re suppose to be guiding them, they might make you look bad. Someone looking at it from the outside might wonder what the leader is doing incorrectly. Are they not motivating this person well enough? It might not be easy to separate yourself from this bad worker.

    • Hello Steve,

      That’s a great saying! It’s important like @LorenPinilis:disqus mentioned to correct, train, and show grace to them before we completely cut them off. Sometimes it’s our fault that they are the weakest link.

      Great point! I’ve known a couple people who tried to make the leader look bad because of their poor performance. Thank you for sharing that point:)