My teenage son just learned a life lesson, which is that relationships and attitude matter. I can’t get into too much detail here, out of respect for the privacy of those involved, but I can say that my son wanted very much to qualify for something . . . and didn’t. He was devastated by this failure, not so much because he wasn’t picked, but because of the chaotic process that led to him being left out. He didn’t feel as if he’d been cut on the merits, which he could have understood but, instead, felt as if he just hadn’t connected with the decision-makers enough for them even to look at his merits.
Still, he had two things on his side right from the start. The first was that he had great attitude throughout the process. The decision-makers may have been poorly organized, but my son was always there, always on time, always striving, always engaging with people to learn how to improve. He radiated “I want this.” The second thing he had going for him was that he’d formed a good relationship with someone who, while not in charge, has pull. Moreover, my son hadn’t formed that relationship to use this person. Instead, he’d formed it because he genuinely respects and likes the person with pull, and that feeling was reciprocated. It was a true mentorship.
The one other thing my son learned was that he had me on his side. I know myself enough now not to react quickly, because my thoughts are ill-formed and my emotions high. That’s when I go charging in like a maddened bull. It took me a few decades, but I figured out that, while the general rule is that one should strike when the iron is hot, my iron needs to cool down a little or else I just burn myself.
As it happened, I’ve also got a nice relationship with my son’s mentor. Once I got my thoughts lined up, I very politely approached the mentor, told him that I was confused by my son’s version of events (which I described in non-emotional terms), and asked if he could discover for me the viewpoint of the other people involved, especially the decision-makers. No pressure, no expectations, no putting him in an uncomfortable position.
The end result is that my son is being reconsidered this coming week, in part because the decision-maker did notice his good attitude and in part because his mentor hustled for him. Even better, my son is remarkably sanguine about the strong possibility that he still might not get what he wants. What matters to him is that he’s being considered on the merits, instead of feeling as if he was thrown around on a high tide of disorganization and then just tossed out without any regard for his abilities and commitment.
A friend of mine who is wise in the ways of leadership told me this when I first heard about my son’s predicament: “One of the leadership lessons I try to teach is the fact that leadership is all about relationships. Many leaders never get this and have little to no understanding of their impact on those around them.”
Truer words were never spoken. Once my son understood that there was a relationship that involved him being seen as a real person, he was able to face cheerfully whatever consequences came his way.
I’ve spoken before at my blog about leadership. Because my kids are so involved in so many sports, I’m fascinated by those coaches that inspire the kids — and equally fascinated by those coaches who know what they’re doing, and who love the sport, but who never succeed in bring the kids along with them. My friend is right that it’s about relationships. But my son learned today that relationships run in two directions. If you want a leader to be there for you, you also have to be there for the leader. And unless someone is manifestly a dangerous enemy (whether to your person or to other aspects of your life), treat them in a friendly way and with respect, both because it will make your world a happier place and because you never know what will matter at the end of the day. Don’t use people, but do appreciate them.