* * *
Susan Harrison, my mother-in-law, died several months ago after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Like most of us, she was not famous. If you didn’t know her you probably didn’t know of her. She lived in the relatively small community of Savannah, Georgia.
Yet she did some amazing things there — she was the first ordained woman Deacon in Georgia, she founded a soup kitchen, and she helped create the Savannah Homeless Authority. In addition to raising three children and, some would say, a husband.
One of the problems we faced after her death was finding a church big enough to hold the people who wanted to attend her funeral. We picked the largest one we could find, with seating for 600, and still many had to stand in the back and along the aisles.
Susan had a particular quality that drew people in. It wasn’t her accomplishments. It wasn’t money. She had no access to famous or important people. She couldn’t hire you; she wasn’t a stepping stone.
Susan was, quite simply, a really good friend.
Which is an art. To be a good friend, you have to give of yourself, but not so much that you lose yourself. You need to know what you want and pursue it, while helping others achieve what they want. You need to have personality while making room for, and supporting, other people’s personalities. You need to care about, and even love, people you might disagree with (I’m pretty sure she didn’t vote for the same candidates as her husband). You need to be willing to give at least as much, if not more, than you take.
* * *
Want to stay in that job you have? Then you’d better have friends. As a friend of mine who runs sales for a successful technology company told me recently, “People try hard not to fire their friends. It’s the difference between ‘he’s a good guy’ and ‘I don’t know about that guy.’”
The happy truth is that the people who say they’re not here to make friends don’t win. That’s true for reality TV. It’s true for business. And it’s true for life.
During Susan’s last few days she was surrounded at all hours by her family and friends. During those moments she managed to get some advice out. Among her parting words? “Surround yourself with a loving community.”
In other words, it’s a pretty good bet that we really are here to make friends.
* * *
To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.