Leadership: Surviving to Thriving—Our Social Need

Recently I learned that one in ten girls in Ethiopia does not have a friend. This is heartbreaking… but it also reminds me that all of us–including executives–have a need to be connected. For the young girl in Ethiopia, it is literally about surviving, and thriving.  For the executive, being connected is a qualitatively different experience but it, too, is about surviving and thriving. We are human and we have social needs.

Consider the following statements, all of which I heard in one form or another at events held while celebrating International Women’s Day in March:

  • “I have a mentor.”
  • “I have a best friend at work.”
  • “I have a friend.”

Imagine saying each of these sentences one at a time. What comes to mind?  What difference can it make?

If you have a mentor, you are in some type of relationship network and are learning how to master something that the mentor has already mastered or has more experience with. You might be learning how to perform a trade, how to lead your first global division, or how to navigate a corporate culture. The mentor is someone who can be called upon formally or informally to share information, provide guidance, and offer support.

 If you have a best friend at work, you most obviously have work! And, according to Gallup’s leading indicators, you are likely to be part of a highly productive workgroup. You have social and professional support, and likely trust, all of which mean that you have an enhanced ability to manage work stress positively.

If you have a friend, it can determine the quality of your life, whether or not you have work or even a mentor. If you are among the hardest-to-reach girls in the world, like the girls in Ethiopia, having a friend can mean the difference between staying in school, finding work, learning life skills, and participating in community and civic life.

If you have a friend or trusted confidante and are an executive, it can mean having the added support to endure the difficult times and someone who bears witness to all of what it requires for you—privately and publicly—to lead.

Bearing witness is no small thing.

Each of the statements above—I have a mentor, I have a best friend at work, I have a friend–is about relationship. This is a fundamental social need. Here among the busyness of our Western world and work ethics, we can be mesmerized and subsumed by business and organizational life—striving to make our contribution in a whirlwind of activity and sometimes without even being aware when the fulfillment of a basic need slowly erodes.

Be vigilant. Have a friend. Have or be a friend at work.

Yes, it’s as simple and as fundamental as that.

U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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