How to Help Latino Leaders Thrive (Part 1): Relational Engagement

By René Aguirre

Over the last decade I have led Latino staff on the Conference Leadership Team (CLT) for InterVarsity’s National LaFe Student Conference. Throughout my time with these teams, I kept hearing: 

  • "I've never been led this way before." 
  • "We got so much done.” 
  • "I am returning home with so much energy." 
  • "These are my favorite meetings!" 

At first, I thought they were just being nice, since we worked long hours and this team was extra work on top of their campus responsibilities. But after a decade of hearing the same comments, I wondered what was different about these teams.


A Key Ingredient: Relational Engagement

Latinos are highly relational:

  • From an early age, we often have to navigate large family gatherings and community parties.
  • We are taught to acknowledge every person in the room upon arrival and departure.
  • The number of deeply engaged relationships that Latinos have is sometimes shockingly high.

You cannot underestimate the value of relational engagement.

Ultimately, relational connection creates a work environment primed for productivity.

When we ask Latinos to give their best as leaders, we will do well to remember that this relational value isn't the garnish on the plate, it is a main ingredient of the dish!

Most of us experience the garnish every day when we greet each other with “How are you?” or “How is your day going." A whole different experience is created if the real intention was to find out “how their family is doing” or “listen to what has been challenging about their day."

When this value is nurtured, something special happens, people are fully present. Their natural abilities flow with ease. Their energies are focused. Ultimately, relational connection creates a work environment primed for productivity.

One of the challenges with the CLT was that we only got to see each other 2-3 times a year. As you can imagine, we could have easily spent all our time catching up with each other’s families, ministry, and personal lives. While that would have been fun, what we always needed was to share the important things in our lives so that we would have a real life picture of each other before we dove into conference planning.


Pursuing Authentic Relational Engagement

Here's a leadership challenge: How can you make authentic relational engagement not only relevant to your first meeting but every meeting?

The value for relational engagement isn't just the garnish on the plate, it is a main ingredient of the dish!

The initial temptation once you are aware of this value is to try to control the interactions and keep them brief. This strategy might buy a little momentum at the beginning of your meetings but it will not give you what you want (high productivity), or what Latinos need (relational engagement).

So the question isn't, How much time do I plan for this interaction?

Instead you should ask:

  • What type of relational engagement do Latinos need for this meeting?
  • How can they grow in knowing each other better?

This allows them to invite others into their world, instead of allowing their world to distract them from the meeting and present situation. As Latinos know the people on their team better and feel known, they will be able to freely collaborate instead of fighting a natural hesitation as they work together.


Next Steps:





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