Today’s post is the featured article from the April 2008 issue of  The Front Porch Newsletter.  If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.

blumbergface1It comes in many shapes. It is available to every age and through every season of life. It is open to almost any depth. For some, it comes and goes — and for others it lasts a lifetime! I’m talking about friendship. I am convinced that when we come to the end of our professional journey, our family lives, and our community involvement — the one thing that will have mattered most will have been relationships. And in the center of quality relationships we will find genuine friendship. Likewise, in the center of problems, we will find relationships that have been broken.

In my book, Silent Alarm, the main character, Jack, wakes-up to some subtle lessons of life. Many people who have read the book try to pin me down to my favorite lesson. It is hard for me to answer that question because I think the lessons of the book are systemically connected. But if pushed hard enough, I usually get cornered into admitting that one of my favorites is when Jack learns that “genuine relationships are God’s greatest gift — love is what matters.”

It sounds real nice in concept. The question is how effective are we in opening-up that gift. I lost one of those gifts last month when a dear friend lost his battle with cancer. Rick had mastered the art of friendship — not as a skill, but as a part of who he was. Skills are important, but they don’t create friendship. Show me a strong family and I will show you friendship. Show me a strong neighborhood and I will show you friendship. Show me a healthy work environment and, yes, I will show you friendship.

Friendship could very well be the most under-utilized resource in our work and in our life. Got friends?

One of my favorite writers is Tim Sanders, author of Love: The Killer App and The Likeability Factor. Tim totally gets relationships in a refreshingly genuine way. Read his books and you’ll understand what I mean. When Tim wrote a testimonial for Silent Alarm he captured a key piece of wisdom when he said, “you’ll find the world is as calm as you are connected.” Tim says you need to be a lovecat. Being a lovecat is not for the weak of heart. It is for those who are willing to proactively invest in themselves so they can intentionally invest in others.

Just days ago, another dear friend of mine, Al, discovered his 10-year old twin son had a malignant brain tumor. He recently posted on his “Care Page” update how he and his family have felt a blanket of love surrounding them through these terrifying days. That is no surprise to me. Al is simply the model of a loving human being. That blanket of love that is wrapped around him is a reflection of who he is and who he has been to others.

Let there be no mistake — no tragedy, serious health issue or demanding work environment will ever be easy. But surrounded by friends, it will always be easier. And I would suggest that in the midst of deep friendships we will grow and be stronger regardless of the depth of the challenge.

I would suggest, from a personal perspective, it would be worthwhile to take an inventory of our friendships — and a pulse on the quality of each of them. And from an organizational perspective we would be wise to measure the “friendship factor” in our workplace. I’m not talking about pulling out another team building seminar, but daring our workplace to become a field of friends. It is not complicated.

Nor is it easy — otherwise everyone would have done it by now. In the midst of the speed and pressures of business and in the demands of family life, what is easy is to get off course. But we are always left with a choice. We can choose to be reactive in our relationships and let the chips fall where they may — or we can choose to be intentional about how we value friendship. We can be calculating and use others — or we can be strategic in how we deepen our friendships. We can toss around words that remind us of the importance of “respecting” each other or we can create a culture of friendship where respect is a given. You’re simply one choice away from the greatest gift.

Imagine the positive impact on retention. It’s harder to leave friends! Imagine the enhancement in customer service. It’s easier to serve others when we are mentally filled with the benefits of friendship. Imagine the mental walls of division and team frustration crashing down where friends help each other improve rather than gossip about the weaknesses of colleagues.

It doesn’t cost you anything — other than leading by example. One’s choice towards friendship breeds another’s choice in the same direction. Sure, it is more vulnerable to go first — but that is what leaders do.

Remember the popular sappy love song from Saturday Night Fever (oh yes you do!). The words of the refrain ring just as true when it comes to friendship:

How deep is your love, how deep is your love
I really need to learn
‘Cause we’re living in a world of fools
Breaking us down —

This world will gladly break you down and pull you out of meaningful friendships. It will encourage you to skate through the surface of life — letting relationships come and go. The 1960’s brought the famous song What the World Needs Now is Love Sweet Love. It’s still true today — but it begins where we work and where we live — one person at a time. I would suggest that we should wake-up to the gift of friendship. Hit the snooze on this one and you might very well sleep through some of the most meaningful opportunities of your life.

ACTION IDEA: Get strategic about your friendships …
1. Make a list of critical relationships at work and assign a friendship factor of 1-10 (ten being “genuine friends” and 1 being “using each other”). Be honest and ready to increase your friendship factors.
2. Start small, but make a plan of action on reconnecting with individual people on your list in a way that increases your friendship factor with them. Be patient and persistent.
3. Plant the seeds in your organization to create a culture of friendship. Get serious about accepting nothing less.