Relationships: Your Impact

A few recent interactions reminded me that you never really know the impact you have on another person. So at the risk of sounding like my grandmother: make an effort to always be gracious and supportive. It’s not always easy and sometimes is impractical, but do it anyway and I think you’ll see benefits on many fronts. And even if not, it makes your world a little nicer. A few examples…

Cameraderie when you feel alienated

I was struck by this in a recent conversation with a former MBA classmate. We had been friendly in school, but weren’t close and had lost touch since we graduated. During school we’d had some lively debates about issues from our classes and had some shared interests. But our contact was fairly limited to class and the MBA lounge.

It turns out my friend felt like an outsider in our program, in part because he was approaching an MBA as a learning journey. MBAs are often very pragmatic about their program. Their journey can be very much about the explicit opportunities they seek. It’s not always about “the journey”.  My friend was more about the journey than many of our classmates and so was I.

He shared that a few classmates had made the experience bearable for him. Each of us had been open minded and willing to engage with him over the ideas, which were sometimes quirky. 15+ years later he still remembered that camaraderie and appreciated it. I never knew. Thanks for sharing.

Opening doors

One of the joys of teaching at a University is you get to help students see what’s possible. I recently got an email from an alum of mine who was checking in, saying how excited she was about her new position at a prestigious management consulting firm and thanking me for helping her achieve her dreams.

If I really am honest about my contribution to her outcome, it boils down to describing what her path might look like, raising her own personal expectations of herself and encouraging her. It sounds simple and I often underestimate the impact that kind of encouragement and challenge can have. Because she was so motivated, she just needed to be shown where and how to go about her search. Other people get the same advice and either don’t follow through or can’t close the deal.

Most of us needed someone to believe in us, have the experience to know how to guide us and give us that push.

Teaching with (mostly) patience

And then there’s the dealing with folks who are a challenge in some form or fashion. Examples for me include the student who asks for advice and then argues with it, the inexperienced person who knows they know the answer even when they’re full of it and numerous others.

I have learned to (mostly) smile and hold back. If you actually like people and believe in learning, you have to be willing to hang in there as people “touch the burner”. Some of my students get accustomed to my smile when they are telling me about their “self-discovering” a core principal that we teach. It’s a smile of mentorship and appreciation at their making the lesson their own. But that means you have to give them room to mess up along the way. (Note to self – Remember that when dealing with my own kids…)

Old friend and career coach Clare Foley always points out that the people who know you hung in there with them when they were struggling appreciate the support all the more. I’ve found that to be true. But it’s definitely been an acquired skill for me…

So I encourage you to be kind and supportive wherever you can. It often takes the smallest form and doesn’t “cost” you a lot. It builds strong and trusted relationships, as well as better teams. It’s my experience that people who have a reputation for talent development end up with great teams.

So be gracious.

5 thoughts on “Relationships: Your Impact

  1. Thanks for the post, Phil. When I was “messing up” with the IDEO Innovation talk event, even aiming to make it a case competition, I always appreciated your patience and guidance. Other people could have smashed the idea from the first chat and “given me a lesson”.

    • Thanks Annie! Particularly around innovation or new ideas, it’s been a learning journey for me. My training and mental discipline has always been around “critical thinking” with an emphasis on “critical”. I’m good at identifying faults. I’ve tried to get better at identifying weaknesses while also building (not tearing down).

      Hope all’s well with you.

  2. Phil,

    Thanks for a really thought-provoking post.

    It is so true that we often don’t know the impact we have on others (either in a positive or negative way) until much later. But those of us in all aspects of education have a huge opportunity to impact students. As you said, so often it boils down to believing in, guiding and (when needed) pushing students towards their goals. I’ve found, especially for those students who are struggling, want to do something different from most of their classmates, or come from under-represented(for business school)backgrounds, what they need most is a mentor and “cheerleader.”

    On another note — we often don’t let those who have impacted us in a positive way know that they have. Let people know! It truly makes someone’s day to hear. So my goal for today is to reach out to colleague who has mentored me and let her know how much difference she has made in my life.

    Grateful for your post, Phil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *