Upon entering publishing some years back I remember receiving some wise counsel which I believe has relevance and broad application for most professionals regardless of industry.
"Publishing is a relational business," my new boss stressed during our first one-on-one. A few days later over coffee my mentor and leadership team peer emphasized, "Ours is a business built upon a fragile ecosystem of relationships." So my marching orders were clear. Of highest priority and immediate need was getting relationships right: if broken, fix them; if weak, strengthen them; and if new, establish them. And while all relationships were important, some were of utmost importance.
I liken it to juggling many balls of varying size and weight. Now some of these balls are made of rubber and bounce back when dropped while others are made of crystal and will shatter if allowed to fall. You must decide what your relationships are made of, then manage accordingly.
My relationship philosophy is pretty simple... be fully engaged. One cannot afford to be passive. If you want a relationship to work, you must work at it. And if you're doing it right, for all the right reasons, then it shouldn't even feel like work. It's a little like what my wife, Stacy, and I remind our kids, "You want to have friends? Then you need to be a friend."
Fortunately, I'm kind of a relational guy, a character trait that has proven instrumental for finding fulfillment, having fun, and making more than a few friends across a career spaning several service-oriented, customer-centric industries.
Truth be told, I have heard on several occasions that I'd make an excellent greeter at Wal-Mart. Absolutely! "Hi. Welcome to Wal-Mart. Thanks for coming in. How y'all doing this morning?" Of course, it helps to use your best southern accent. And if you have to ask why southern, then you probably have not lived, worked, or spent enough time in places like Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama, and Tennessee. Remember the welcome that the wife of young attorney Mitch McDeere received in Sydney Pollack's film adaptation of John Grisham's The Firm? "Abby this is the South, we encumber you with hospitality." Over the years this little saying has become the "gold standard" I set with my teams. If our clients, guests, partners, etc. don't feel "encumbered" by our hospitality, then we're not trying hard enough.
Given all the challenges businesses face today, perhaps a little more attention to these "fragile ecosystems" is in order. A greater investment of time, energy, emotion, and empathy is guaranteed to pay dividends not always found on a balance sheet.