There’s a lie in popular society today, a lie that we embrace and endure because it’s sexy, inspiring and makes for a great story. It’s a lie epitomized in the likes of Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, Richard Branson, Bono and virtually every other great name of our time. We look at these leaders, these captains of industry and we see individualism. We celebrate the “lone ranger”, the maverick who apparently went solo and overcame all obstacles to achieve wild success. Those who show weaknesses are weak, and those who look to others for support and guidance are lesser people. Right?
As bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi teaches in his brilliant work Who’s Got Your Back, nothing could be further from the truth.
Even the Lone Ranger Had Tonto
"Behind every great leader, at the base of every great tale of success, you will find an indispensable circle of trusted advisors, mentors and colleagues."
Ferrazzi uses Who’s Got Your Back to share this one important message: People are more successful in life (and work) when they are connected to, and in constant interaction with, a trusted collection of likeminded individuals. Ferrazzi calls those connections your “lifelines”.
The premise of the book is pretty straight forward. 1) Find a small number of people who you would like to build a mutually caring and supportive relationship with, 2) build those relationships and 3) allow those people to push, challenge and hold you accountable to becoming more successful than you ever would have on your own.
The idea is simple in theory, yet potentially daunting in reality and near impossible without the proper framework in place. Luckily for us, Ferrazzi not only explains the value of having lifelines, but provides step by step instruction on how to create our own.
For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume you have a couple people in mind that you would like to have on the “Board of Directors” for You, Inc. First, you need to create a supportive foundation in which to mutually explore issues and areas of opportunity. As Ferrazzi explains, “There are four core mind-sets – which can be learned and practiced – that form the behavioural foundation for creating the kind of lifeline relationships I’m talking about.”
Those four mind-sets include:
Generosity: The genuine interest in helping the other person without payment or trade.
Vulnerability: A willingness to identify and admit weaknesses.
Candour: Honesty at its truest level; the willingness to call BS on someone’s excuses or false logic.
Accountability: An openness to being held accountable, and a willingness to hold the other accountable to their commitments.
So how do we establish these kinds of relationships?
The Art of the Long Slow Dinner
"It’s a sad state of affairs that more and more of us rely so much on the moment of birth or marriage or death to step out of our busy, driven lives to satisfy our hunger to establish deep relationships with each other."
We rush around a lot these days. (You may have noticed.) We schedule, we travel, we barter
(I’ll do this for you, if you do this for me) and we generally try, 24/7 to accomplish “more”. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ambition. Where I would argue there is something wrong is in our depreciating ability to enjoy the moment; to genuinely connect with the people in our lives and, in doing so, foster a greater sense of connectedness.
As much a metaphor as an actual event, the “long slow dinner” doesn’t have to be a dinner at all. Simply put, the long slow dinner is a chance to connect; an opportunity to build a deeper, more meaningful relationship by showing genuine interest in the life of another; an interest, a willingness to help, and no hidden agenda. All that’s required is a mutually comfortable space in which to speak with someone you trust, someone who you genuinely want to see succeed. That, and no looming deadlines. The work day lunch doesn’t usually work, unless you both have extremely flexible work schedules.
Pick an evening over the next two weeks and take someone for dinner, strictly for the purpose of helping them grow. Skip the small talk. “Why?” is a great question to build depth. Find out what drives them and how you can help. You’ll be amazed at the level of depth and appreciation that simple three-lettered word can create.
Sparring to Lose
"You know, Ajit, the goal of an argument is not victory, it’s progress. Ask yourself, have we developed any new insights in our discussion? If the answer is yes, then we’re making progress."
So how do you maximize your lifelines, once you’ve identified them and built a safe environment? Be open. Be open to suggestion, recommendation, and downright confrontation. The point is, you brought these people into your life with the intention of growing, of becoming a better version of yourself. Ferrazzi explains it as having people around to help you “bust through your own glass ceiling”. So keep that front of mind. If you’re asking people to challenge you, then appreciate them when they challenge you!
Put yourself in situations that allow you to grow. Bear your soul and ask the tough questions. Get into heated debates. Defend and attack ideas, not identities. Keep in mind these are people who love and respect you, but that doesn’t mean they have to agree with your ideas. I love this quote from Ferrazzi: “Sparring isn’t about winning. In fact, just the opposite – you hope you’ll change! Looking forward to being wrong is one of the most eye-opening opportunities sparring offers!”
In a discussion or “sparring” match, you get to either be right, or you get to improve. You decide which one’s more important.
With Who’s Got Your Back, Ferrazzi reminds us of the importance of asking for help. Anyone who feels they “know it all” has quit growing and will soon be surpassed. Only through surrounding yourself with people you can learn from – people who genuinely care about your success (and you about theirs) – can you surpass even your own wild expectations for life and success. Today, pick someone you admire and invite them out for the long slow dinner that could change your life.