November 5, 2013
Messy Business by Dennis Clemmer
I often don’t take time to read the alumni news publication I receive from my high school. But when the magazine arrived several months ago, something drew me to reading about the commencement address given by Andrew Huth, an editorial/documentary photographer located in Philadelphia.
Huth challenged the graduating seniors on the hard work of bringing about change, noting that to do so “we need to be intimately involved in the messy business of loving others.” The “messy business of loving others” … hmm.
Huth went on to say that he was challenged early in his career when he was harshly critiqued by a newspaper editor who noted that all of his pictures were taken with a long telephoto lens. “You’re far away from your subject in a lot of your pictures; you’re afraid to engage people,” he was told. Realizing that the critique was on target he began to take pictures with a 24mm lens that required him to get within arm’s length of his subjects. “From that day forward, I never photographed anyone without first spending time talking with them, eating with them, walking with them and, most importantly, listening to them,” Huth told the students.
I found myself resonating with Huth’s comments as I am, by nature, someone who finds it easy to use distance in relationships. As the oldest in my family, with a handicapped sister born immediately after me, I learned to do things on my own and became quite comfortable functioning independently. But it also made me susceptible to keeping distance between myself and others. Engaging with others, for me, takes intentionality.
One of my observations in working with some business leaders is that taking a personal interest in those who report to them is not easy. While they might be comfortable talking with employees about work related issues, connecting on a personal level is a challenge. Asking an employee about what goes on in their lives outside of work feels nosy and intrusive so they don’t go there. Learning too much can result in encountering “messiness,” they believe.
How do you view business relationships? Are those you lead only of value for the skill sets they bring to your organization? Or, are you willing to risk some “messiness” in order to connect on a deeper level?
From my many business conversations over the past 13 years I have learned that employees do notice when you, the business leader, take time to know something about their personal lives. Connecting on a deeper level communicates to your people that you value them for who they are, not just for how they can advance the business. And that does make a difference!