Choosing Your Circle: Lessons in Surrounding Yourself with Excellence

Apr 25, 2024

I keep a list of quotes that I value. This week I’d like to start by sharing 5 of the quotes that I began using as a north star a few years back when determining who to spend my time with. I’ve used them to guide choosing the people I incorporate into my personal and professional networks alike.

  • "If you're the smartest person in the room, then you're in the wrong room." - Confucius
  • "Show me your friends and I'll show you your future." - John Kuebler
  • "Keep away from those who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great." - Mark Twain
  • "Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life." - Amy Poehler
  • "Try to associate yourself with and learn as much as you can from those who know more than you do, who do better than you, who see more clearly than you." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

With that as a backdrop, it helps to set the tone for the people I try to surround myself with. I try to spend much of my time with people who are smart, positive, and driven. I love being around people that don’t see a challenge as a reason to complain, but as an opportunity to succeed. They think differently and work to team up with others who do the same by bouncing ideas back and forth, challenging each other, and bringing others along for greater opportunity.  It was an interaction with some of these people that serves as the genesis for this week’s thoughts.

I recently spent some time in Boston. One of the people in my group, who played football for, and subsequently graduated from Harvard, took us to one of his old college bars for an after-dinner drink (literally one). While there, another member of the group made a wonderful observation. The bars didn’t have televisions or music playing. Furthermore, as we looked around the room it was difficult to find a visible cell phone. The people there didn’t let distractions take away from their ability to focus on listening, discussing problems and solutions, and creating connections. That made me start thinking about times I’ve been in extremely productive gatherings. What I realized is that where the people came from, their education, their family history, or their title is irrelevant. What I realize now is that the key factors were a lack of distractions, a willingness to be truthful and direct, an attitude focused on solving problems rather than dwelling on them, and a willingness to allow more than one winner. Let’s unpack those key factors.

  • Lack of distractions – Focusing on a television, worrying about the music, or staring at a phone takes away from learning and interacting with the valuable people right in front of you.
  • Willingness to be truthful and direct – Not sharing current or potential issues because you are worried about offending someone is disrespectful. Be honest and direct to honor their time so that you can work through issues. To be truthful and direct, if you aren’t the kind of person that gives and receives feedback on issues that are difficult, then you aren’t the kind of person that belongs in the room.
  • An attitude focused on solving problems rather than dwelling on them – This comes in a couple of different forms. One way is talking negatively about what other people are doing and how it’s “unfair”. All you’re doing in that situation is giving them the power to continue. Another way is focusing on why something won’t work. Put that focus towards figuring out how it can.
  • Willingness to allow more than one winner – There are people and companies that I must interact with that always try to leverage themselves as the champion that will consume the rest of us. Their shortsightedness is what will cost them in the end. Creating ways to aggregate talent that results in multiple winners is the key to long-term success.

That leads me to this week’s challenge… Shape your circle and give them your focus.

If your circle looks, thinks, and acts like you do, your circle isn’t big enough. Make more friends, connect with more business associates, and talk to people you haven’t before. Be willing to accept that being different is good and that you don’t need to agree on everything to be great friends. Then, once you’ve chosen who to surround yourself with, give them the respect of being the type of person that honors their time with your focus. Learn from each other, push each other, solve problems together, and make sure you win together.

I'm thankful you went to work today, that you took the time to read this, and for being a part of what makes this world amazing!