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"We need Mr. MacDonald's vitals," I overheard someone say as I sat in the doctor's office.

A minute later a nurse entered the room and introduced herself. "So what are these vitals you need?" I asked.

"Oh, just a few things we monitor each time you come. They tell us how you've been doing since the last time you were here."

Those vital signs are standard indicators of physical health: temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and respiration rate. Those four measurements help the doctor determine my condition. I bring up this standard medical procedure in order to ask: Are there vital signs that indicate the health of human relationships such as marriage, family, friendship, working teams, and congregations?

Most of my years have been involved with one form of leadership or another. Back at the beginning, I discovered that if I could not gauge the quality of my relationships, I was headed for trouble.

A story: My wife, Gail, and I have just finished the first two hours of a day-long meeting with a pastoral team from a large church. We find a corner where we can talk in private.

"They seem a pretty unified group. Don't you think?" I say.

"No," she says. "There's a lot of fear of the lead pastor in that room. Watch how everyone looks to see if they have his approval whenever they say something. And there's clearly some tension or competition between (she names two participants). Oh, and I can also tell you this," Gail goes on: "the women at that table are not happy people. Something is going on there."

"How can you tell all that after just two hours?"

"Gordon," Gail answers. "You're doing so much talking that you haven't had time to check the vital signs. I'm telling you: there's lots of trouble in that room."

I'd seen none of this. Without Gail's insight the day could have been wasted.

Fifty years of observing and experiencing relationships (as well as being married to Gail) has taught me that the connections between two or more people can quickly deteriorate if one is not consistently checking the relational vital signs.

My nurse only checked four vitals. But when it comes to relationships, I'm up to ten.


A vision is usually a great idea or an imagined opportunity that captures the energy of two or more people and causes them to merge their efforts to bring it into being. A worthy vision has reachable goals and usually requires faith, sacrifice, hard work, and personal development. It brings out the best in every person involved.

There is a "visional" (a new word I made up) foundation to a good friendship, a good marriage, a good team. Whether defined or simply intuited, the vision keeps the relationship moving forward and sloughs off the extraneous stuff. Thus, when I visit with people in various kinds of organizations, I like to ask "What is the vision ...

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Gordon MacDonald is chancellor of Denver Seminary and editor-at-large for Leadership Journal. He is author of numerous books, including Going Deep: Becoming A Person of Influence.

Related Topics:CommunicationCommunityEmotionsTeamworkUnity
From Issue:Callings, Winter 2013 | Posted: January 16, 2013

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