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We’re approaching Thanksgiving Day here in America. One week away.
Our personal growth is significantly impacted by other people. Within the past few weeks, I’ve conducted a few leadership workshops. I regularly illustrate our ability to help each other by telling stories of people – particularly older men – who influenced me. These were men I sought out, making investments to forge a relationship that otherwise wasn’t likely going to happen. In some cases, I took a chance. In other cases, it happened a bit more organically. But in every case, I behaved with high intentions, often being relentless because the relationship mattered that much to me.
Before I go dark for the rest of November – because many of you will be taking time off and others of you will be busy because business is hitting a higher gear – I want to talk with you about finding and forging relationships. The kind that can make a big difference in your life – professionally and personally.
Let’s have some fun – some learning fun.
Think of a person in your life who isn’t a family member. Somebody with whom you feel safe.
Here I’ll help you think of a specific person. This person is somebody you can talk to about just about anything. Maybe you can talk to them about everything – anything! Even better.
You don’t fret about confessing anything to them because you know they have your best interest at heart. You also know that whatever you tell them will never be used against you.
The person I want you to think of is that kind of person, but they’re also somebody who doesn’t jump to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Mostly, they listen so they can better understand your situation.
Yes, they want to help you do what’s best, but they’re not anxious to live your life for you. They challenge you with ease because they want you to be your best. It’s about YOU. It’s not about them.
Have you got a name in mind yet?
Now, go back and think about how that relationship got going. Was it a chance meeting? Was it more intentional? How did it happen?
The man pictured to illustrate today’s episode is Ronny Wade. He passed away earlier this year at the age of 83. He had been a lifelong mentor of mine since I was a young adult. He was an educator, serving as an elementary school principal in Springfield, Missouri, but mostly, he was a gospel preacher. My parents were close to him, knowing him since he was just a 16-year-old kid from Ft. Worth, Texas. So he had known me since I was born. That only made it easier for me to find him, but I still had to forge the relationship.
The man earned my respect. I admired his knowledge and wisdom. I trusted him because he had proven himself trustworthy. By being the man he was, I made a conscious decision to make him chief among my mentors. No, I never approached him and officially bestowed that title on him. I just set about to make it happen because I knew he could serve me unlike anybody I knew – or anybody else I knew of.
I’m thankful I took the chance. And I’m thankful I did it when I was young. He was 20 years my senior. Things are quite different when your mentor is 83 and you’re 63. It’s not quite the same when you’re 20 and he’s 40. It’s a bit scarier. Feels riskier. I didn’t care. By the time I was 15 I knew I was going to grow closer to him. And I did.
Rarely do good things happen just because of pure chance. Usually, in my experience, there’s some degree of intentionality – some specific actions taken that improve the odds of a good outcome. So it was in my finding and forging a relationship with Ronny.
The man never wanted anything for me that wasn’t for my best. Spiritually, or otherwise. And he wasn’t offended if I didn’t see it quite as he did (which admittedly was rare because he had greater knowledge and wisdom than I did). I knew my limitations, which is largely why I sought him out when I was young.
You have to invest.
If you want to earn a return, it going to require an investment. The more you invest, the greater your return.
Over the years I learned that my relationship with Ronny was a surefire investment. Very quickly the return proved predictable and solid. So I invested more. I’m smart like that. 😀
Forty-plus years of weekly phone calls, countless in-person visits during many ups and downs for both of us – the relationship grew into a pretty terrific two-way interaction with each of us doing our best to serve each other. I wasn’t merely interested in taking from him. I wanted to make a positive difference in his life. He had much more to give than I did, but I never let that stop me from trying to dig as deeply as I could to return positive things to him.
I’m thankful for our years together. Mostly, I’m thankful I took the chance to forge the relationship by leaning on him with my trust and confidence.
Here are the things I’d like you to take away.
- Survey the people you most admire. Your reasons are your own. Don’t worry about what anybody else thinks.
- Find somebody – perhaps a group of somebodies – with whom you think or know you can feel safe.
- Equally important – to safety – find people you’re confident can help you because of their knowledge and wisdom to help you grow.
- Be confident in your ability to have them serve you with insights, experiences, and counsel.
- Be confident in their ability to provide those things.
- Be confident in your ability to provide something to them.
- Don’t fret about the trade-off being equal. Be willing to get more than you get (at least when you start).
- Don’t put pressure on yourself or them. Just start.
- Be humble and curious. Approach them and ask questions. Just talk. Mostly, listen.
- Let it flow. If you’re fortunate, like I was with Ronny, it’ll take off from there.
- If not, make sure you give it enough time.
- If you give it enough time and it still doesn’t feel quite like it’s going to happen, then keep looking.
- Rinse and repeat.
Take a chance. You might lose something priceless if you don’t.
If, like me, you’ve already done it, be thankful. Tell them.
Before Ronny died I went to spend some days with he and his wife. I had been telling him I wanted to come see him one final time. “Don’t wait too long,” I implored. Then one day, during a regular phone conversation he said, “Come on.” And I did.
We laughed. We ate meals together. We remembered the past. And we were able to tell each how much we meant to one another. Once more I was able tell you how much I loved him. And how thankful I was that we’d had so many good years together. We said good-bye.
It was just a few weeks later that I eulogized him – honored that he’d asked me some years prior. Horrible anxious and nervous, I muttered through.
Next week I’m sure like you I’ll be thinking of more things I’m thankful for. Today, and just about every day, I’m thankful I found and forged a relationship with a man who made such a positive difference in my life. I work hard – and want to work even harder – to be that man for others. You should, too.
If we’ll put in the work to be the type of person we most seek to help us, I suspect it’ll improve our odds of finding each other.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!