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Work Life Lead: Talk, then what?

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Many of us, like me, love to talk. We are great conversationalists. Put us face to face with one person or with a crowd, and we’ll go on and on and on. We learn to be good at influencing people with our ideas.

There’s a problem with this approach to life and work that can ultimately endanger our ability to influence and be effective leaders.

Talking is only a part of relating people. There are other aspects of relating that we often miss. There is obviously listening. Not the kind of listening where we are quiet, waiting to speak, but listening to understand and identify with the person.

There is also the action of engagement. This can take many forms. It is simply our active participation in those activities that matter to that other person.

Much of what we think of relationship building as leaders is the clever projection of our own personalities onto the social environment we are in. We are not so much building relationships as collecting acquaintances.

In the long run, we end up with a large network, and no true friendships.  This is downside of easily available access to networks of people worldwide. We mistake acquaintance for friendship, connection for genuine engagement.

The measure of a network is not how many, but their collective effect. If you ask them to do something, how many will do it. If you hold an event, how many will come. If you ask them to vote in a contest, how many will vote.

What is the measure of a relationship, of a true friendship?  Is it our conversation, or something else?

I have reflected long upon this over the years. I’ve thought about it in the context of good relationships and hard ones. The conclusion I’ve reached is not an easy one because there is a cost involved.

The measure of a true friendship is a person’s willingness to sacrifice their own personal benefit for the advancement of another person or their interest.

This goes far beyond seeing relationships as a matter of connection and conversation. It is a deepening of the relationship to a level of commitment and accountability.

Years ago, I asked people, when I’d meet them, a question that I ceased to ask after only a few months. My question was:

“If you were to become a total failure today, who would stand with you?”

Most of the people to whom I asked the question had no answer, just silence. Those that did said, “My mother.” I stopped asking the question because I realized that I was traumatizing these people by exposing the state of their personal and professional relationships.  It was particularly telling that none of those I ask said their spouse would be there for them.

The person who stands by you when things are at their worst, with no expectation of return, is the true friend.

This is the kind of relationship that we should envision beginning when we are at a networking event going through the initial rituals of relationship building. If we did have this mind when we meet people, would our conversation be different. Would all our talk not be about ourselves, but rather mutual listening, learning to identify with the hopes, dreams, and challenges that the other person faces?  I believe so.

In addition, I also recognize that most of us want this kind of friendship as professional people, but don’t have it because we are waiting for it to come to us. All leadership begins in personal initiative. If we want true friendship, we must initiate it. If we want people to stand with us through the good and bad times, then we must gather the courage and character to be that person for others.

Yes, do talk, and talk a lot. But also listen and identify with the other person’s life and work situation. Stand with them, so they can stand with you.  Not all will, maybe even most, but those that do will become the source of strength that we all need to be at our best each day.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/polandeze/1206596658/

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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