Forget 10,000 Likes – Build an Authentic Tribe
Last week, I had a great meeting with a partner of a global communication firm. Whether we work together remains to be seen. Will we end up being friends? Who knows. What I do know, however, is an authentic connection was made. And authentic connections matter. A lot. One authentic connection is worth well more than 10,000 looks and likes, particularly in times of individual or organizational change. Here’s why.
If you’re out of high school – and I presume if you’re reading this post you are – then you know authentic relationships beat flash-in-the-pan popularity any day. Authentic connections fuel our lives, and business. They create trust, success and importantly, significance.
In our personal lives, particularly when the proverbial “stuff” hits the fan, there are likely 4 or 5 people who help us navigate through tough changes and challenges. There may be many well-intended others who cheer us on with good advice, provide bad advice or cut out altogether. Change is a constant but tough process, in life and business. Even a necessary change, requires an “unanchoring” of sorts to occur, in order for the change to happen. Typically, a bit of what I call shine is lost during this unanchoring. Once that happens, some well-intended supporters may lose interest. That’s kind of natural – many human beings are attracted to the new, shiny object, as much as they actually desire an authentic connection. The latter group of supporters will come back around once you’re all shiny again. Pay attention to the former group, however. These are the people we truly need. The people who build each other up. The people who become our “tribe,” our authentic network, and in some cases, our best colleagues, friends, customers, business partners, even spouses. These are the people who move each other to success and significance.
Since we never for a moment stop being, feeling and acting like human beings, this principle is the same in business — particularly in times of change, transformation and challenge. The explosion of digital media and digital transformation may make us feel that we need 1 million followers, everyone to “like” us and immediately jump on board with a proposed change. But just like high school, you really don’t. It doesn’t happen like that anyway. An authentic tribe – that sees you through the good and the bad – is much more critical. In fact, a 30-year Harvard study found authentic, longstanding relationships more indicative of our happiness and success than anything else.
While I’m all for genuine passion, excitement, and know how to do “shiny,” you likely don’t need tens of thousands of people looking and liking your fab memes, your company event, your latest post, your sales whatever. You start and focus on your smaller, truer group. A group that will see you through change, not bullshit, have your back, stay the course and commit to reaching a common goal, because you’ve inspired that kind of loyalty in and from each other. You’ve heard the saying, “People don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.” Truth is, people leave inauthentic bosses and relationships. As human beings, we are hard-wired to stay in relationships that work because we want to believe a person’s intent, communication and actions. If the relationship – what we call employee engagement in the workplace – has faltered, it doesn’t really matter who or how a person has disengaged, at least one of those three things is broken. The communication and actions are not an add-on. They are the relationship.
In a never-ending search for top talent among a galaxy of fabulous resumes and people, how do you spot the authentics? That is, the people you want and need to surround yourself with?
IT’S A VIBE
First, it’s a vibe. Vibe isn’t the kind of word we use a lot professionally, but it’s necessary. If you have a gut reaction to someone or something, pay attention to it. Even if over time you feel that someone has “wronged,” you — and over the course of authentic relationships, we all unknowingly or unmeaningly “wrong” each other at times — pay attention to your gut feeling about that person. There have been hundreds of studies on gut instincts, and there’s a reason: gut instincts are usually right.
NOTE THE PEOPLE WHO HELP YOU AND IMPORTANTLY, OTHERS
Second, note the people who help you and others, particularly when help wasn’t requested and there’s nothing in it for them. This is the mark of an authentic person and relationship. That’s who you need. The murky, choppy waters of change make the need for authentic people and relationships more critical than ever.
Two business examples (one a connection and another a long-standing relationship):
- During my meeting last week, the partner suggested I meet his colleague. Rather than passing me off to HR with a “I’ll send a note,” he walked to the next guy’s office and asked the second gentleman to meet me, right then. This may not seem like a big deal. But I’ve been in business a pretty long time– he even longer. We both know that authentic relationships require real actions. If you want something done, you go to the person who can do it and have a real conversation. Fact is, the guy could have waxed poetic about the company’s values, culture, people, etc. but his actions spoke so much louder, making a lasting impression on me (enough to write about it). After the second partner agreed to the meeting, the first sat in, highlighting things in my background he knew of import. Not only did we have a good vibe, he actively helped me by initiating his own ideas, without any request from me. I don’t forget things like this, and neither do most people – colleagues, friends, customers, business partners. It is the basis for authentic relationships. It’s not as complicated as one may think. And, it matters.
- Twelve years ago, I started my now international business with one client, one project. My first client paid me $3k a month to accomplish a specific set of goals and tasks. But I helped him in any way I thought may be useful, and in some ways that probably weren’t. In agency terms – granted I was a shoestring shop at that time – it’s known as over-servicing the account and typically discouraged, as it’s not an immediately profitable activity. But, I liked the guy. I trusted him. We had a great vibe. I wanted to see him and his company succeed. Twelve years later, he’s now the CEO of a well-known manufacturing company that Forbes recently praised as having helped “revolutionize the industry.” Fact is, he taught me a lot about business. I couldn’t be more delighted that for several years in a row, he’s led the company to pretty phenomenal growth – this year it was 50%. Over the years, I’ve done a lot under the communication umbrella for him. He’s still a sometimes client. But even when he isn’t paying me (like now, he has no idea I’m writing this), I’ll send him articles, thoughts, pitch him for stories, talk to people about his and the company’s success. He’s done similar for me. I don’t do it to get business, nor does he to get service, it’s an authentic relationship. Never a one-way street. When he calls me or I call him for help, we don’t bullshit each other. These are the people I seek to surround myself with. Interestingly, people often seem impressed that I advise “C-level leaders,” and ask how I developed those relationships. Honestly, with no disrespect to the hard-earned, well-deserved position, it’s a relationship like anything else, built on authentic communication. On that, I’ll share my father’s advice: “Don’t be impressed by the position, be impressed by the person’s actions. That’s what matters. Surround yourself with people of high-integrity who act accordingly. That’s who the leaders are.”
I’ve said this before in previous posts and speeches: Leadership is an action, not a position. Building authentic relationships, inspiring loyalty, demonstrating integrity and navigating change, doesn’t start with thousands. In business, it starts with the right leaders and small network of people committed to a common goal and to each other. Change must be inclusive and becomes more inclusive as those people attract similar who adhere to the same principles. Success during change is fully dependent on authentic communication and actions. Actions that are aligned with the person’s words and commitment. The communication and actions are not an add-on. They are the relationship.
Pay attention to someone’s vibe and people who genuinely work to help you and others — particularly when nothing’s in it for them. These are the people you want in your tribe. These are the people who help you navigate change. Just like in high school, you don’t need thousands of friends. You need an authentic tribe that actively helps you succeed and develop significance. Do the same for them. Authentically.
Patty McDonough Kennedy is a global communication expert with 20 years of experience helping organizations grow, transform and succeed. A TEDx and national public speaker, she’s lived and worked in the US, Europe and Africa and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and Entrepreneur. Check out her blog The Connection Mindset, where she writes about helping people thrive. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.