Lean on Me

We all have employment disaster stories. The TV station that launched my career as a television news reporter foundered on the shoals of financial mismanagement and left me high and dry on Unemployment Island.

Happy team. Isolated.

A job with a major non-profit organization brought me to Virginia and then blessed me with two layoffs. I deftly avoided the first one with a lateral move within the organization. The second one opened the door to a new career as a self-employed business writer and, ultimately, a leadership coach.

Through each of those humbling and frightening experiences, I found solace in the compassion and counsel of close friends. I didn’t turn to them for career advice, even though our conversations often explored employment possibilities. I wanted and received more. My confidants helped me put my employment challenges in the proper perspective, adopt a positive attitude and commit to exploring new opportunities. Most importantly, they let me know that they were available whenever I needed to talk.

Who will you turn to the next time the winds of adversity buffet your business? Is there someone you can lean on when times are tough? Equally important, are you someone who will be there for a friend in need?

I attend a bi-weekly men’s breakfast meeting at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk. At each gathering, Pastor Jim Wood challenges his listeners to set high standards for relationships with our family, friends, colleagues and community.

Lately, he’s been encouraging us to think about whom we would call and who would call us when adversity strikes. I asked him to relate this idea to the business world.

“In some ways I think it’s more difficult to find people in the business world who can serve us in that role,” says Wood. “The sense of competition that is inherent in business naturally leads us to hold our business affairs very close to the vest. The last thing we want to do is admit to some vulnerability.”

Nevertheless, breaking free from that isolationist mindset and finding a business bosom buddy will provide you with an invaluable resource for coping with the usual slings and arrows of business fortune—and it may be a blessing when disaster is beating at your gate.

Where should you look for a business confidant? “He or she should be someone outside of your organization and someone who is essentially on the same level as you,” says Wood. “Someone within your business may have some hidden agendas that will affect your relationship. A social friend may not have the business acumen you need to address workplace issues.”

What are the qualities of a capable business confidant? Intimate relationships of any kind are built on trust and compassion. Consider people who demonstrate integrity, sensitivity and other leadership characteristics you admire, such as humility, positivity, tenacity and creativity. People who possess these qualities are more likely to give you wise counsel when adversity strikes.

Now let’s flip the coin and consider how you might be a confidant to a business colleague. If you possess the qualities mentioned above, you are a candidate for counseling others in need. But there are some important considerations to ponder before you take on this role.

According to Jim Wood, “You must desire to help others without having a personal agenda. You must be prepared to give without expecting to gain a strategic advantage.”

That’s not to say there aren’t rewards that come with being a confidant to a colleague. There is a reciprocal relationship between what we give and what we gain.

Wood says, “Being a business confidant infers a deep sense of integrity and trust that affects how you see yourself and how you interact with others. The more you are trusted, the more trustworthy you become. The more honored your are, the more honorable you become.”

If you believe that you have something to offer someone as a business confidant, you must consider how to approach individuals with whom you would like to develop this relationship.

“Start slowly,” says Wood. “Look for people with whom you share common interests, values and work ethics. I think its critical to be very intentional when you approach a person. Tell him or her that you’d appreciate having this sort of relationship in your life and that you see it as mutually beneficial.”

You can launch a business confidant relationship by suggesting that you and your confidant read a book that touches on business principles. Jim Wood recommends Good to Great by Jim Collins. “It’s incredible how responsive people can be to sharing their thoughts, feelings and experiences as they react to ideas in a thought-provoking book.”

Ulysses S. Grant, no stranger to career challenges, once said, “The friend of my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”