Why do you always ask people their names?

Recently, I was on a family vacation in Mexico.  As always I would make a point of befriending staff and other guests of the resort. As a social person this is just the way I am.  I hadn’t really thought about it until my 12 year old step-daughter asked me, “why do you always ask people their names?”

I honestly had never really thought about it, but my quick response to her was that it makes our experience more enjoyable.  I continued to think about it that day and what I came to realize was that it was just another example of how relationships are at the core of any great experience or organization.  I started to notice that all of the staff members at our resort that I had introduced myself to paid a little bit more attention to us in the resort, whether it was Marina our housekeeper who would do the little extras in our room, or Eduardo our beach host who find us empty lounge chairs on the beach when we arrived too late to find any available.  I believe these staff members just felt a little more familiar with us because of the effort of a simple introduction and being able to address each other by name.  The multiplier in this relationship is that for the staff members the excellent service will likely result in a healthy tip from me as an acknowledgement of the extra effort that they provided to us which improved our vacation experience.

This is the same type of response that can be found in effective organizations such as schools. From my experience schools and organizations where leaders take the time to engage and build relationships with everyone on staff are the most successful.  When people are recognized and feel valued as a team member regardless of their role they are more inclined to value the work they do.  Leaders that are able to foster this type of environment tend to be more approachable, which gives everyone the confidence to share ideas that may improve the system, or create something new and innovative to benefit the overall organization.  Workers will also be more likely to make a personal investment into the organization which inevitably will help maintain a healthy environment to work and learn in.

I have always believed that relationships were at the centre of what I do as a professional and in my personal life. Whether it was coaching or education, or hanging out poolside at a Mexican resort, I always felt my strength was in my ability to build relationships.  I am glad my step-daughter asked me the question as it gave me time to reflect on the value I place on building relationships throughout all facets of my life.

The Ted Factor…

As I progress through the years of life, I find myself becoming more reflective. I like to think about the moments – the good ones, the bad ones; the ones that change the course of life, the ones that dig a deeper rut; the ones when risks were taken, the ones when risks were avoided; and of course the ones that are happy, and the ones that are sad. It is amazing how many of these moments are accumulated over the years that have significant impact on what we do, what we believe, where we live and ultimately who we are. But in the end after replaying my life on fast forward, I realize that all of those moments are only significant because of the people and the relationships that are attached to them, or the relationships that resulted from them.

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That brings us to the ‘Ted Factor’ and the relationship I have had with him and the lessons I have learned.

Ted is one of the most inspiring people that I know, and I have been fortunate to develop a close relationship with him over the years. He is a devoted family man, a retired teacher with 33 years of wisdom, a coach of countless soccer, baseball and basketball teams, and an extremely generous volunteer. He is also the kindest and friendliest person you could ever meet, I know I can’t think of anyone else that I have met that is like him. Ted is one of those rare people that has lived his life smiling every day and saying hello to everyone that he comes across whether he has met them before or not. He has a knack for making people smile, he is a good man, one I feel privileged to know and learn from. He has been a mentor for so many people over the years.

I can’t remember a time when I have been out with Ted when I didn’t hear the words from some stranger “Did you teach, I think you taught me in 1972”. Then Ted comes back usually with some comment like, “yes I remember you, I taught your younger sister too.” I am usually blown away that either of them remember, let alone recognize each other, because some of the people that say hi are out with their teenaged grandchildren. As an educator myself, I wonder if the students I taught in my first few years will remember me in the year 2040?

One of Ted’s greatest traits is that he is blissfully ignorant when he wants to be, which allows him to be so positive and focused on the ‘moments’ he shares with all of the people in his life. He doesn’t worry, and he plays the cards he is dealt with a smile on his face. Recently, Ted has had some serious health issues. What has emerged from this difficult time is something that I don’t think Ted would ever have imagined. The number of people that have reached out to wish him well has been phenomenal. For the first time, I believe Ted is starting to realize the level of influence he has had on the lives of people he forged relationships with throughout the years. Old friends, new friends, former neighbours, his former students and his baseball players, members of local community groups, waiters and waitresses from his favourite restaurants, his mechanic, they have all been in touch to wish him well and comment on how he has influenced their lives. It has certainly energized Ted to get his health back so he can continue with his relationships and make many more new ones.

The single greatest life lesson I have learned from Ted is that when it comes right down to it, the relationships we have with people is what makes life worth living. The moments we have with family, friends, students, coworkers and acquaintances are made extra special and memorable if we spend time to care for the relationships. Ted has shown that a smile and hello can go a long way to having a lasting impact on people.

I am so fortunate that I can call Ted a friend, a mentor and a confidante. I love reflecting on the moments we have shared and the lessons I have learned over the years and I look forward to the ones we have yet to share.

However, what I am most thankful for in my relationship with Ted is that I get to call him Dad!

Love you Dad, thanks for being you.