Have you heard the name Stephanie Louise Kwolek? Probably not.
Kwolek was a Polish-American chemist who worked at DuPont for nearly 40 years. In 1965, she invented one of the most significant materials in modern times. This material has saved millions of lives.
Five times stronger than steel. Kevlar is an unbelievably durable material. It’s mainly known for use in “bullet-proof vests.” But, Kevlar can withstand 500 °F for seventy hours. It holds up in −320.8 °F cold.
“Kevlar is used as a material in more than 200 applications, including tennis rackets, skis, parachute lines, boats, airplanes, ropes, cables, and bullet-proof vests. It has been used for car tires, fire fighter boots, hockey sticks, cut-resistant gloves and armored cars. It has also been used for protective building materials like bomb-proof materials, hurricane safe rooms, and bridge reinforcements. During the week of Kwolek’s death, the one millionth bullet-resistant vest made with Kevlar was sold. Kevlar is also used to build cellular telephones; [Wikipedia]
At nearly 48 years old, I’ve been in the trenches and learned so much about relationships – often times the hard way.
In leadership roles, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. My failure file is much larger than my success file.
When asked about all the failures he experienced attempting to invent the first lightbulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In other words, Edison saw failures as vital steps toward success. I imagine Stephanie Kwolek failed a few times as well on her journey to create Kevlar.
Today, I see my failures at creating durable relationships as steps toward success. While I’m still a work in progress, I’ve at least made progress at becoming a bit better leader than I was yesterday (I hope).
As I see it, every interaction I have with someone adds credit to a relationship account. Every time I open up and allow the team into my life to see the good and bad, more credit is added to that account. Every time I can own a mistake or ask for forgiveness for doing something wrong, more credit. Every time I can celebrate with a teammate, credit. Every time, I can come along side and help them through a tough time, credit. Every time I pray with and for my teammates, credit. Every time I invest even a moment acknowledging their contribution to the mission and vision, credit is put in that relationship’s account.
My cup runneth over!
This is not about some flimsy transactional relationship model. I use the word ‘credit’ because that’s the best way I can think of to describe how to build and cultivate deep relationships on a team.
Perhaps, I’m trying to be like Stephanie Kwolek, I want to create the most durable fabric possible within the culture of my team. I don’t want to create cheap thin polyester fabric, I want Kevlar relationships – bullet-proof relationships with a lot of grace and dynamism.
Your interactions today will be the topic of conversation around the dinner table tonight.
As a leader, you must have the self awareness to understand that every interaction you have with your team today will have an impact. Like waves that radiate from a stone thrown into a tranquil pond of water, your interaction will wash into the lives of the families and friends of your team.
If you stop and think about it, as a leader, you have the power to shape the conversations long after the work day is over.
If you have such significant influence in someone’s life, don’t you think it’s important to understand the consequences of every single interaction with your team whether its verbal or non-verbal? It’s a relational stewardship – a huge responsibility.
How was your day?
Imagine someone on your team whom you lead going home after a hard day at work and sitting down at the dinner table with his or her spouse and children. Perhaps, the spouse asks, “How was your day?” The children pause eating and cast their gaze exhausted parent.
This is where your earlier interaction has the power to shape the entire evening of that family.
What if your team member responded with a description of how you ignored her or berated her over a mistake, or lost your temper, or didn’t listen, or made them feel like a cog in a wheel, or didn’t communicate something important, or allowed conflict to fester within the team?
What a sad story to tell at the dinner table, right?
That story will have a ripple effect beyond dinner. The children sharing their winning goal at the soccer game, or good grade on a math test matter very little when their father or mother is demoralized and feels unloved or unseen by their leader.
On the other hand… What if that person on your team responded to the question, “How was your day?” differently.
What if, their eyes lit up, a huge smile crossed their face, and a tear of joy moistened the corner of their eye as they excitedly shared what their leader said to them today? They tell the family how you (the leader) stopped by and took time to remind them they are important to the organization. How you said, that the project you’ve been working on for weeks matters, despite the challenges. How you thanked them for their hard work and grace with you as the leader. How you asked about their family or prayed for them on the spot!
Perhaps, you as the leader asked for forgiveness for being short or owned a mistake? Maybe, they tell the story of how you recognized their contribution or comforted them or asked for advice on an important project. What if it all you did was simply give your team member a big smile, a nod of approval, and wink of the eye just to acknowledge their contribution or a job well done?
That interaction will not only place more credit in your account, it will strengthen the relational fabric of the team – making it more bullet-proof and fire-resistant.
Most importantly, your interactions with your team today will be the topic of conversation around the dinner table tonight – and beyond.
What is the story you want told tonight?
Not a story all about you, but about how you made someone feel significant, appreciated, cared for, valued, and connected to something bigger than themselves.
That should be the story every leader should want told about them around the dinner table tonight.
So, why don’t you create that story when you go to work today? Don’t just pass by your team members without being aware that you have the privilege of shaping their story.
What that story will be is up to you. Make it a good one.
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.”
– Proverbs 22:1
Special Thanks to my mentor and coach, General David Warner (Ret.) for making me aware how my attitude and actions impact the people around me. It makes me want to be a better leader, a leader who leads like Christ.