What partners expose your Vision to things you need to know?
“You could come back with me!” the young 14-year-old “Tom Hanks” exclaimed towards the end of Big. Having found that his child-like spirit was a major gift in business, he missed his friends and partners… and being able to really be a kid. The response from his ‘girlfriend’ is timeless: “No, one time being in junior high is plenty”. And I am eternally grateful that the actual movies of my era are on media that are very hard for anyone to find and post anywhere…
If you watched the original Wonder Years, I am exactly the age of Kevin, the lead character. I had partners like Paul and Winnie, and we did NOT fit into the world around us anyway. One was Jewish, and the girl was “way too smart” for a southern girl where your career paths were “nurse or teacher or homemaker”. My own skeptical yet empathetic mind let me see that these partners’ lives were even more complicated than my own, me being “just” over a year younger, short, with a burr haircut, and who still rode his bicycle through high school… with a basket for all my science and math books… 😉
As your Vision is tested, what partners helped you hone it?
In his adolescent years, MLK initially felt resentment against whites due to the “racial humiliation” that he, his family, and his neighbors often had to endure in the segregated South. Yet in 1942, when King was 13 years old, he became the youngest assistant manager of a newspaper delivery station for the Atlanta Journal. That year, he skipped the ninth grade and was enrolled in Booker T. Washington High School, where he maintained a B-plus average while working. The high school was the only one in the city for African-American students. It had been formed after local black leaders, including King’s grandfather, partnered with the city government of Atlanta to create it… the same one who walked into town himself to get an education.
While King was brought up in a Baptist home, King grew skeptical of some of Christianity’s claims as he entered adolescence. He began to question the literalist teachings preached at his father’s church. At the age of 13, he denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus during Sunday school. King said that he found himself unable to identify with the emotional displays and gestures from partners frequent at his church, and doubted if he would ever attain personal satisfaction from religion. He later stated of this point in his life, “doubts began to spring forth unrelentingly.”
partners help you hone YOUR Vision, not your parents or others
Once we got over that we didn’t fit, we all realized in an unspoken way that we would use this time to hone our abilities to really know how to partner with all kinds of people. Rather than allowing others to control or label us, we found we could stand together and enjoy the weird, nerdy people we were. Ironically, many years later, I have found that almost EVERYONE in those years thought THEY were odd misfits and found their own particular support group of partners. Some shared Vision helps bind you together, and that is an important leadership point.
If you realize that those around you are mostly unsure of their own Visions for what they want, it may help you move together as partners towards something that you ALL find more rewarding. As I took over team after team, particularly in times of stress like we have been in/are in, I realized that just putting something rational as a Vision up on the White Board or in PowerPoint didn’t work. It had to appeal to them individually … and emotionally. That meant I needed to first understand more clearly what motivated them – generically and specifically.
The partnership Vision is always an “And”…
Riding around in the 1966 Dodge Dart Swinger (that last part is critical because it was like us – TRYING to be cool – but really – a Dart), we would listen to weird music, read National Lampoon, and generally just drive through the reality that was so foreign to us both. And, we talked and listened a lot, and mostly didn’t judge as we both realized our paths while overlapping now, would diverge. And that was ok – we both simply wanted the best for the other. Some were headed into medicine, some into law, some into science, and some weren’t really sure. All we were sure of was that we needed to find another place to be 😉
Holding your Vision loosely lets partners pick it up
As I entered teams, I would always find a way to have discussions of each person’s “Why”. Most started with blank stares – some had really never thought about it… and if you can count to 10 (or however long it takes to NOT talk) they will eventually deliver gold. Their REAL purpose in being in this role now… Given that, you can then begin the process of building a Vision that is the collection of each of those Why’s. And that “song” when crafted well, allows everyone to begin to sing in their own voice, harmony if they know how to do it…
MLK first heard “If I Can Help Somebody” performed by Anna Lee Williams, a classically trained soprano. By that point, he had already started the path towards making that his daily calling. Getting up every day, and engaging the team of partners around him. But in high school, he was really just starting to realize that, as he separated from the family system that had brought him up so bravely, he would need to find some partners. That story is tomorrow, but for today, what partners helped you craft and hone your own earliest Vision, and do you need to go back and check in with them? I do for sure…sung her by MLK’s most consistent partner, Mahalia Jackson – who he convinced to record this amazing song… If I can Help Somebody.