If You Get Along, They’ll Go Along
The most important single ingredient in the formula of success
is knowing how to get along with people.
—Theodore Roosevelt, American President
People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
—John C. Maxwell
The Best Medicine
If you're not a physician, you've probably never heard the name William Osier. He was a doctor, university professor, and author who practiced medicine and taught until his death at age seventy in 1919. His book, Principles and Practice of Medicine, influenced the preparation of physicians for more than forty years in the entire English-speaking world, China, and Japan. Yet that was not his greatest contribution to the world. Osier worked on putting the human heart back into the practice of medicine.
Osier's penchant for leadership became apparent while he was still a child. He was a natural ringleader and the most influential student in his school. He always showed an uncanny ability with people. Everything Osier did spoke to the importance of building relationships. As he grew older and became a doctor, he founded the Association of American Physicians so that medical professionals could come together, share information, and support one another. As a teacher, he changed the way medical schools functioned. He brought students out of dry lecture halls and into the hospital wards to interact with patients. He believed that students learn first and best from the patients themselves.
But Osier's passion was to teach doctors compassion. He told a group of medical students:
There is a strong feeling abroad among people—you see it in the newspapers—that we doctors are given over nowadays to science; that we care much more for the disease and its scientific aspects than for the individual…. I would urge upon you in your own practice, to care more particularly for the individual patient…. Dealing as we do with poor suffering humanity, we see the man unmasked, exposed to all the frailties and weaknesses, and you have to keep your heart soft and tender lest you have too great a contempt for your fellow creatures.
Osier's ability to show compassion and build relationships can be capsulized by his treatment of a patient during the 1918 epidemic of influenzal pneumonia. Osier usually limited his work to hospitals, but because of the magnitude of the epidemic, he treated many patients in their homes. The mother of a little girl recounted how Osier visited her child twice a day, speaking to her gently and playing with her to entertain her and gather information about her symptoms.
Knowing the child was nearing death, Osier arrived one day with a beautiful red rose wrapped in paper, the last rose of the summer, grown in his own garden. He presented it to her, explaining that even roses couldn't stay as long as they wanted in one place, but had to go to a new home. The child seemed to take comfort from his words and the gift. She died a few days later.
Osier died the next year. One of his British colleagues said of him:
So passed into history, untimely, even though he had attained unto the allotted span, the greatest physician in history…. And above all it is as a friend that during his lifetime we regarded Osier; as one who possessed the genius of friendship to a greater degree than anyone of our generations. It was his wonderful interest in all of us that was the outstanding feature…. It was from his humanity, his extraordinary interest in his fellows, that all his other powers seemed to flow.
Fleshing It Out
The ability to work with people and develop relationships is absolutely indispensable to effective leadership. According to the May 1991 issue of Executive Female magazine, a survey was taken of employers asking for the top three traits they desired in employees. Number one on the list was the ability to relate to people: 84 percent responded that they sought good interpersonal skills. Only 40 percent listed education and experience in their top three. And if employees need good people skills, think about how much more critical those skills are for leaders. People truly do want to go along with people they get along with. And while someone can have people skills and not be a good leader, he cannot be a good leader without people skills.
What can a person do to manage and cultivate good relationships as a leader? It requires three things:
1. Have a Leader's Head—Understand People
The first quality of a relational leader is the ability to understand how people feel and think. As you work with others, recognize that all people, whether leaders or followers, have some things in common:
They like to feel special, so sincerely compliment them. They want a better tomorrow, so show them hope. They desire direction, so navigate for them. They are selfish, so speak to their needs first. They get low emotionally, so encourage them. They want success, so help them win.
Recognizing these truths, a leader must still be able to treat people as individuals. The ability to look at each person, understand him, and connect with him is a major factor in relational success. That means treating people differently, not all the same as one another. Marketing expert Rod Nichols notes that in business, this is particularly important: "If you deal with every customer in the same way, you will only close 25 percent to 30 percent of your contacts, because you will only close one personality type. But if you learn how to effectively work with all four personality types, you can conceivably close 100 percent of your contacts."
This sensitivity can be called the soft factor in leadership. You have to be able to adapt your leadership style to the person you're leading.
2. Have a Leader's Heart—Love People
President and CEO of Difinitive Computer Services Henry Gruland captures this idea: "Being a leader is more than just wanting to lead. Leaders have empathy for others and a keen ability to find the best in people…. not the worst…. by truly caring for others."
You cannot be a truly effective leader, the kind that people want to follow, unless you love people. Physicist Albert Einstein put it this way: "Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to divine a purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that man is here for the sake of other men."
3. Extend a Leader's Hand—Help People
Le Roy H. Kurtz of General Motors said, "The fields of industry are strewn with the bones of those organizations whose leadership became infested with dryrot, who believed in taking instead of giving….. who didn't realize that the only assets that could not be replaced easily were the human ones." People respect a leader who keeps their interests in mind. If your focus is on what you can put into people rather than what you can get out of them, they'll love and respect you—and these create a great foundation for building relationships.
Reflecting on It
How are your people skills? Do you mix well with strangers? Do you interact well with all kinds of people? Can you find common ground readily? What about long-term interaction? Are you able to sustain relationships? If your relational skills are weak, your leadership will always suffer.
Bringing It Home
To improve your relationships, do the following:
Improve your mind. If your ability to understand people needs improvement, jump-start it by reading several books on the subject. I recommend works written by Dale Carnegie, Alan Loy McGinnis, and Les Parrott III. Then spend more time observing people and talking to them to apply what you've learned.
Strengthen your heart. If you're not as caring toward others as you could be, you need to get the focus off yourself. Make a list of little things you could do to add value to friends and colleagues. Then try to do one of them every day. Don't wait until you feel like it to help others. Act your way into feeling.
Repair a hurting relationship. Think of a valued long-term relationship that has faded. Do what you can to rebuild it. Get in touch with the person and try to reconnect. If you had a falling out, take responsibility for your part in it, and apologize. Try to better understand, love, and serve that person.
In a short story titled "The Capitol of the World," Nobel prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway tells about a father and a teenage son, Paco, whose relationship breaks down. After the son runs away from home, the father begins a long journey in search of him. Finally as a last resort, the man puts an ad in the local newspaper in Madrid. It reads, "Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office tomorrow at noon …. all is forgiven .... I love you." The next morning in front of the newspaper office were eight hundred men named Paco, desiring to restore a broken relationship. Never underestimate the power of relationships on people's lives.
I LIVED IN SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA, FROM 1961 TO 1973. I WAS PART OF A LOCAL CONGREGATION THAT STARTED WITH HALF DOZEN PEOPLE, BUT GREW LARGE VERY QUICKLY. THE FIRST MINISTER SENT TO US AFTER ABOUT A YEAR OR SO, WHEN WE HAD GROW TO 50 OR SO MEMBERS, WAS A YOUNG MAN 4 OR 5 YEARS OLDER THAN MYSELF. HE WOULD INVITE 2 COUPLES TO COME TO HIS HOME, EVERY SATURDAY EVENING, TO JOIN HIS WIFE AND HIMSELF IN PLAYING TABLE GAMES. HE TOLD ME, “I DO THIS KEITH, BECAUSE I NEED TO KNOW THE PEOPLE OF MY CONGREGATION IN A RELAXED EVENING OF FUN, TO KNOW WHAT MAKES THEM TICK, TO LOVE THEM IN A DOWN-TO-EARTH SETTING.” WOW, DID THAT EVER WORK WELL. HE WAS LOVED GREATLY BY ALL UNDER HIS CARE.