the shape of leadership

Growing in Relational Health

John Townsend’s new book equips leaders for life and ministry

Alaina Battaglia on July 8, 2019

Most of us recognize the benefits of taking daily vitamins, staying on top of that workout routine, and eating the green stuff. But there is another area we need to maintain that’s just as critical to a healthy existence: relationships.

In his new book, People Fuel, Dr. John Townsend provides a thorough analysis of key relational “nutrients” that are necessary to growth and health. Townsend explains how to receive these nutrients — and share them with the people around us.

Readers will discover helpful insights for identifying their own relational deficits, and practical solutions for meeting their internal needs. (If you think you have no relational deficits, it’s all the more reason to pick up a copy of this book.)

With the demands of life, prioritizing our needs can be difficult, and, as leaders, we are notoriously inept at this skill. As I read through this book, I had to confront my own tendency to lean toward the functional instead of the relational side of communication.

While Townsend has a lot to say about needs, he admits the phrase “I need” in the relational realm can be cringeworthy. It’s acceptable to say, “I need some advice on finances.” But it’s not as easy to say, “Life is challenging and I just need to talk.”

People Fuel presents a solid argument that exercising relational muscles in communication is vital — not just to emotional health, but to overall well-being and growth.

According to Townsend, the journey to identifying our own relational deficits and responding appropriately to the needs of the people around us begins with a thorough understanding of four nutrient quadrants. He identifies these as “Be Present,” “Convey the Good,” “Provide Reality,” and “Call to Action.”

Sometimes a person truly just needs our presence and not our advice.

Quadrant 1 — “Be Present” — includes skills like acceptance, attunement and validation. This approach is for people who aren’t in need of advice as much as someone to “jump into the well with them,” as Townsend puts it. When we become aware of personal struggles during conversations with friends, family members or congregants, we often try to meet them with solutions.

Ministers, with their pastoral hearts, naturally want to dispense advice. But sometimes a person truly just needs our presence and not our advice. Townsend provides guidance to help readers recognize when they are in a get-in-the-well situation, as well as tools for communicating appropriately in these moments.

Quadrant 2 — “Convey the Good” — involves affirming, encouraging, expressing respect, and other freeing responses. This is the focus when a hurting person needs a safe person with whom to heal.

Quadrants 3 and 4 venture into the advice category. Townsend unpacks how to provide reality and action steps in a way people receive for initiating real-life change.

As I read this book, I wondered whether I would be able to employ the principles in my day-to-day interactions. I had a coffee meeting scheduled with a friend, so I decided to give Townsend’s advice a try. The conversation quickly turned from a brief summary of the last couple of months to my friend’s internal state.

I resisted the impulse to lay out a series of action steps and instead listened in a way I hadn’t before. Not only did this allow me to begin closing the gap of my friend’s relational deficit, but I also found it easier to be personally vulnerable. I left that appointment feeling refreshed and refueled at a deeper level.

People Fuel is an engaging read that does not require a lot of time to complete. While it is laden with terminology that could be a new diet for many, it is also filled with narrative examples that help place the terms in a real-world context. The multiple organizational charts and lists help clarify and ingrain the content.

Overall, Townsend provides leaders and pastors with a great resource to transform the way we energize our own lives and the lives of those God entrusts us to lead.

Book Reviewed

John Townsend, People Fuel: Fill Your Tank for Life, Love, and Leadership (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

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