One of the most vastly overlooked sources of value in both the personal and business arenas is strong relationships with others. While shiny new MBA’s are often experts at glad-handing their way into a lucrative job, and while they may dutifully attend their school’s alumni events to ‘keep in touch,’ really harvesting true value of relationships requires a far more deliberate process of understanding human nature and cultivating trust and open communication.
Developing, maintaining, and growing relationships starts with being interested in people. As simple as that sounds, it is one of the rarest qualities I see in business. Most of us are interested in other people only as far as we think there’s something in it for us. But in the course of pursuing that narrow self-interest, we often fail to realize that each of us is a unique masterpiece who possesses an irreplaceable gift. Of the five people in your life who are closest to you – can you describe what their unique and irreplaceable gift might be?
I’m truly fascinated by what makes people tick. When I meet people, I generally don’t place them into any category, whether it’s a President of the United States, or a man who’s repairing the iron gates outside of my home. I’ve found that genius is not reserved for those who have achieved high station, nor is nobility of character denied those of more humble occupations. The highest expression of ourselves can exist at either end of the spectrum, and at all points in between.
One of the most interesting relationships I developed over the years was with an entrepreneur named David Smith. David, who is the owner of Sinclair Broadcast Group Media – the largest privately-owned broadcast media network in the U.S. – comes from an engineering background. He is an intensely private person who, at first blush, appears to be somewhat demur. He projects a quiet confidence, but he’s definitely not a guy who wants to be in the limelight. However, when we met at a White House correspondents dinner gala over 15 years ago, we had a brief conversation and promised to keep in touch.
I doubt David or I had any idea at the time that we would eventually be become close friends or business partners; but we did share some mutual interests and so we would chat from time to time. At one point, when Justice Clarence Thomas had written a new autobiography, David Smith agreed to host an event at his estate in Maryland where the Justice would speak about his life. Over the course of time, I visited David at his home more often, and we had the opportunity to break bread with each-other and his immediate family in a casual, if sublimely elegant setting. As we began to hang out, some of the walls between us began to fade, and David’s unique gift began to emerge. He is a visionary with the mind of an engineer. As an entrepreneur, he constantly works on seemingly intractable business challenges as if they were engineering problems. He works within constraints, and tests systems and processes both for their limitations and for potentially overlooked opportunities. He has taken the work of systematizing business processes to an art form.
In fact, it is David’s ability to create systems out of inefficient (but accepted) businesses processes that has made him such a wildly successful entrepreneur. For years, I peered over his shoulder in awe, unaware on a conscious level that I was soaking up quite a bit of his perspective.
And here’s where the real value of our friendship began to take shape for me. Building deep rapport with someone, really understanding what makes them tick, opens up the gates to somatic learning. That is, it is possible to learn just as deeply from someone else’s experience as it is from one’s own. My background, although in the media, has been more as a producer or distributor of content. That skill set can be somewhat complimentary to network ownership, but it is quite different. However, over the course of our relationship I began to observe the way that David approaches problem-solving, and how his creativity feeds his vision. He has unwavering confidence in his vision and is able to bring properties to profitability that others have forsaken, because he has already rigorously worked out the problems in his mind first.
Fast forward, to fifteen years later. With David’s invaluable help and mentorship I too have become a broadcast media owner. I was recently honored as ‘Media Owner of the Year’ at the Multi-Cultural Correspondents Dinner held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. As I stood at the podium to receive the award, with my immediate Executive staff members looking on, I was reminded that this opportunity really started with a relationship.
A close friend recently asked me what gives me the edge, what I believe to be my own unique gift. I thought about it a while and said, that I believed it was resilience: the ability to move forward towards a goal in the absence of confirming evidence – or in fact, at times, despite evidence to the contrary. That is certainly a quality that I would like to explore more deeply at another time. But I also believe that what gives me the edge is empathy. With empathy, we can look into the life experience of others, understand what motivates them, and often pick up a trick or two for our own toolbox.