"Far too often, I've found, we are cut off from each other, both at home and in the workplace. (I sure was once!) Too many people try to go it alone. I can understand why. In today's culture, we've overemphasized the individual at the expense of teamwork and collaboration. The media give us story after story of business and sports and political superstars--hyperachievers who seemingly reached their goals single-handedly by following a brilliant but solitary vision. Too often, we're left the nagging sensation that those who need or seek out help are somehow weak, lacking in confidence, or otherwise insufficient. The result is that too many of us lose our way or falter and stumble on the path to the top.
We're wary of opening ourselves up even to our closest friends, never mind our colleagues in the office. We view vulnerability, and occasionally even outright kindness, as a badge of weakness. We keep our opinions, our secrets, and our fears to ourselves. Honesty is viewed as risky, mine-filled, something others can't handle (whereas a lot of the time we're the ones who are afraid). So instead of telling people what we think to their faces, we talk in circles.
The result? Instead of giving heartfelt advice, we gossip, speak indirectly, play politics, or use other colleagues and friends as our in-through-the-back-door messengers. It's as if we're still in high school! We view generosity of spirit as if it were some old-fashioned throwback to an era that no longer exists. Some of us go so far as to assume that if someone holds out an offer of help, she must have an ulterior motive: What does that person want from me? And so we continue to go it alone.
At the same time, as a culture, we complain of a lack of balance in our lives--that we spend all our time working, thinking about work, winding down from work, or getting ready for work. Yet according to economists Ellen McGrattan and Richard Rogerson, our work hours have actually remained more or less constant since World War II. In fact, some studies suggest that our leisure time has actually increased. (Whose fault is it if you keep your Blackberry glued to your knuckles while you're on vacation or at the gym?)
So if we're all working the same number of hours as before, or even less, why does it feel as though we're toiling away at our career responsibilities more while getting a whole lot less out of our efforts?
The real villain, as I found for myself, is the lack of richer, deeper relationships in both the workplace and our personal lives. We have too many nodding acquaintances and not enough close encounters of the lifeline variety.
Sad to say, a lot of our relationships have become more focused on accomplishing specific tasks or projects, rather than on developing and nurturing intimate connections. Unfortunately, that's a choice we've made. Our day-to-day dealings with colleagues and clients remain, for the most part, on a surface level. Most of us are happy just skimming across the water. The result, in the workplace, has been a major loyalty drain among customers, employers, and employees; we're not achieving our full potential in our careers because we're so afraid of soliciting the advice, feedback, and support of others. The result in our personal lives has been a nagging feeling that there's got to be more to life than this.
EASE OFF THE BRAKES
When I was a kid, my best buddy Dave and I made a wooden wagon with wheels salvaged from a junkyard and a rope steering setup, the kind you pushed up a hill and let gravity take over. When we were finished building, we dragged our wagon up to the top of the hill behind my house and climbed aboard. "C'mon!" we shouted, willing the wheels down the incline. But nothing happened. Then I realized that Dave hadn't picked his feet up from the ground. And Dave noticed that I hadn't let go of the rope we had tied to a cinder block as a safety anchor. We were both too scared to let go and let gravity take over.
So it is with opening yourself to two or three close advisers, the people who are your tribe. Nature wants to take you there--you just have to trust yourself to ease off the brakes.
Dave and I finally did--and it was the ride of our lives.
GETTING TRIBAL: THE FOUR MIND-SETS TO BUILDING LIFELINE RELATIONSHIPS
There are four core mind-sets--which can be learned and practiced--that form the behavioral foundation for creating the kind of lifeline relationships I'm talking about.
- Generosity. This is the base from which all the other behaviors arise. This is the commitment to mutual support that begins with the willingness to show up and creatively share our deepest insights and ideas with the world. It's the promise to help others succeed by whatever means you can muster. Generosity signals the end of isolation by cracking open a door to a trusting emotional environment, what I call a "safe place"--the kind of environment that's necessary for creating relationships in which the other mind-sets can flourish.
- Vulnerability. This means letting your guard down so mutual understanding can occur. Here you cross the threshold into a safe space after intimacy and trust have pushed the door wide open. The relationship engendered by generosity then moves toward a place of fearless friendship where risks are taken and invitations are offered to others.
- Candor. This is the freedom to be totally honest with those you confide in. Vulnerability clears the pathways of feedback so that you are able to share your hopes and fears. Candor allows us to begin to constructively interpret, respond to, and grapple with that information.
- Accountability. Accountability refers to the action of following through on the promises you make to others. It's about giving and receiving the feet-to-the-fire tough love through which real change is sustained.
. . . The process starts with generosity. It jolts people out of traditional transactional do-for-me-and-I'll-do-for-you relationships. Actively reaching out to and helping others gives us the opportunity and permission to take a relationship to a deeper level. . . . This process is iterative: The more you give, the deeper you get, and the more profound your sharing becomes. That strengthens your safe space, providing more freedom to be vulnerable and candid--which opens the relationship even more deeply.
But whoever the individuals and groups are and however they are viewed from the outside, within the trusted circle of advisers they've created and the mutual support they offer, they are peers.
That's worth repeating: peers. Even though one of them may have clear organizational authority--and the title and decision-making power to go with it--each member functions as a highly respected equal, offering up creative ideas, candid feedback and criticism voiced with authentic concern for the others' interests, and rigorous attention to accountability around goals, goal setting, follow-through, and of course results."