Why We Need Helpful Voices in Our Lives

Some tables hold significant places in history. Jesus and His disciples gathered around a table for a Passover meal immediately prior to Jesus’ arrest and subsequent crucifixion. King Arthur had a famed round table around which he and his knights congregated. As its name suggests, it has no head, implying that everyone who sat there had equal status. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated around a table by the Pilgrims and members of the Wampanoag tribe.

Today, tables come in a variety of styles and are used throughout most every element of society. The table has become the place for brainstorming, conversation, negotiations, mentoring, and dining. Tables are scattered throughout homes and organizations and serve a number of purposes.

What does this have to do with you?

What if you created a table of influence, a group of influencers that want to invest in your life? Stop imagining having wise voices in your life and create a table of influence. This has been one of the leading decisions that has changed the trajectory of my life.

We all need the influence of others in our lives. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the love and support of my family and the countless others who have influenced me along the way.

My Table of Influence is a great, big table surrounded by people who challenge, support, push, pull, inspire, and encourage me every day.

My dad says that good choices lead to good results; mediocre choices lead to mediocre results; and bad choices lead to bad results. That is a very simple truth, but we have to keep reminding ourselves to strive toward the wisdom that will help guide and direct us to the best possible results in business and in life.

When we are met with big decisions in life, the influence of our family, friends, mentors, and fellow leaders make the most difference. That’s why we must continue to surround ourselves with people we respect and people who challenge us in all aspects of our development: mental, emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual.
— Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-fil-A


1. You don’t have it all together

If you agree with that statement, you understand the value of other people in your life. You recognize the importance of different perspectives and the contributions of others. If you disagree with the statement, your ego will be a hindrance to your success as a leader.

Surrounding yourself with the right voices will inevitably lead to making better decisions. Likewise, isolating yourself or surrounding yourself with people who are afraid to disagree will negatively affect your decisions. There is a tendency among some leaders today to keep the best thinkers out of the leadership conversation. Real leaders, however, understand they need insight and wisdom from others and don’t rely exclusively on their own intuition and experience. The best ideas often come in the middle of conversations with people who have already been where you are. They understand the pressure but are far enough removed to offer perspective—something you likely don’t have a lot of right now.

Authentic leaders aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” They must be honest about their deficiencies and leadership holes. Some strategists don’t manage people well. Some business leaders can’t handle the accounting needs of their businesses. Some customer service representatives are great with customers but lack other leadership skills. We must get to the point where we recognize the need for input from others. Each person you bring to the table should make you better at what you do.

•What are some areas of your life about which you need more information, wisdom, and insight right now?

•Who are some successful people you would like to invite to your table?

2. Formal education isn’t enough.

When looking for the right people to invite to the table of influence, many leaders start with the most educated people in the organization. Though education certainly has value, education doesn’t always produce great thinkers. Many educational institutions conduct more indoctrination than education. They are determined that everyone leave the institution reciting a creed. So, though institutions of higher education pride themselves on producing great thinkers, there is evidence that disputes those claims.

Some of the most degreed people I know have no common sense. They are great in a static, classroom environment. But when you put them in the real world, they lack what it takes to survive—what some people call “street smarts.” You only earn “street cred” from actually doing what you’re talking about.

Think about the various levels within your organization. Take a few moments and identify someone who would make a valuable contribution at the table. Consider people you know and people you don’t currently know. Sometimes you get the opportunity to learn from other leaders in person (that is, at your table), and sometimes you learn from them via proxy (at seminars, through books, blogs, podcasts, etc.). When I have a tough decision to make, I will either ask someone already at my table or imagine what someone might say who has already influenced me in other ways. This is often a very productive exercise.

•Identify two or three people you know who are successful. Can they help you overcome a specific hurdle?

•Identify one or two more people whom you’ve read consistently or heard speak multiple times. What would they say about your situation? Try to see things through their eyes.

3. You have questions you can’t answer.

Again, this is hard for many leaders to swallow because they feel the expectation to have all of the answers to all of the questions. Leaders who think this way are setting themselves up for a tremendous fall.

No singular person is the expert on everything. Successful leaders understand you don’t make decisions in a vacuum. Every leader who has had to make important and courageous decisions has done so with the insight, wisdom, and support of others they trust.

Because different people have different perspectives on your situation and needs, they are able to see things from a different angle and, thus, are able to help you make the most informed decision. The more you engage people in meaningful conversation, the more small problems you’ll solve before they become big ones.

•Why is it hard to admit the gaps in your understanding and experience?

•What will gaining insight from people of influence do to your decision-making capacity?