Posted on May 8, 2009 by Blake Leath
A woman, very important to me, recently shared this story:
"I spent last evening with my friends of fifty-nine years and drove home in the fog. During the drive, I was thinking, 'Can it be that when I was eight and putting my books in my cubby in elementary school, one girl, who just sat across from me at dinner, had first approached me and asked, 'Some of us go out and play and talk on the playground now during recess. Would you like to come?' Well, I had experienced a horrible couple years in kindergarten and first grade at another school, though no one knew that. I had worried much about the playground, and even planned to hide behind a tree! But, there I sat last night with seven friends of fifty-nine years who had invited me out to the playground. They had made all the difference decades ago, but the eleven years we spent together in school have paled in comparison to the lifelong friendships we have experienced ever since."
To varying degrees, everyone has a need for friends and friendship. While some people need friends to survive, others need them as touchstones. Either way, their place in the human experience is undeniable. It is these connections that provide a sense of belonging, acceptance, and affirmation.
Some friendships are not; they are -- instead, one-way. One person does all the giving, while the other does the taking.
Some are destructive and cancerous.
Some are shallow and predictably splinter upon the rocks.
Some last for moments, while others last a lifetime.
In the end, those that prove the most fruitful are the ones in which each person is refined and made better as a result of the relationship. I have met too many couples and 'friends,' for example, who simply pollute one another or prove toxic. (I am most haunted by a woman I counseled years ago who said, "My husband hurts me. I feel so ashamed." In Battered Person Syndrome, as in unhealthy friendships, the beater beats and the victim apologizes. These are not friendships; these are cyclical-crimes that feed on themselves and only worsen with time.1)
A good friend once asked, "What sort of person should I marry?" My only advice at the time was, "Marry someone most beautiful on the inside."
The enduring, adhesive (sticky) friendships bring each person closer to greatness than before. (Jerry Maguire wasn't too far off base.)
Just recall the slogan, "Friends don't let friends drive drunk." Said conversely, "Friends are the means to make you better (not worse)." They mean you no harm, have your best interests at heart, and serve to help you fulfill your destiny. The same is true of great organizations, great employers, great supervisors/managers/leaders/colleagues.
For several years, we all heard the mantra, "There is no 'I' in TEAM." A colleague of mine most effectively addressed the shortsightedness in this logic when he said, "The greatest teams 'sponsor' individuals who -- together -- become much greater than the sum of their parts."
I've always liked that idea -- that the greatest teams make individuals better, pull them to greatness and, generally, 'sponsor' them... their personhood, their character, their integrity, their value, their potential, their humanity.
As leaders, just as parents, we sometimes resist creating friendships with employees, believing such a dimension might alter or complicate an otherwise simpler relationship. I understand this conceptually, but have found that some of the greatest leaders and parents are friends (not exclusively, primarily, or predominantly), but also.
In the words of the beautiful Maya Angelou, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Now, go befriend someone, maybe a newbie. Ask them to lunch, to join you during recess, or to save you a spot in the next meeting. You never know, it might just lead to a decades-long rapport or relationship that brings you or them out from behind that tree, or makes you both better individuals than you are today.