I was in a greenroom not too long ago. A greenroom is where people who are about to be on a television show get their instructions, have their make-up done, and generally have coffee and mingle with the other guests on the show.
On this particular day, there were five or six people sitting around enjoying each other’s company. Suddenly, someone said, “Hey, it just struck me. We are an ex-wives club!”
It took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about. Then it dawned on me. Each of us in that room had worked with a given publisher, each of us had enjoyed success with this publisher, and then it had all gone sour. A great deal of joking and laughter followed this idea that five or six successful men and women would ever be anyone’s ex-wives club.
I started thinking about what my own experience with this publisher had been. We had enjoyed immense success together. This lasted for a while. Then, it seemed as though this publisher started competing with me. Who got the credit? Whose idea was the title? Could I have had success without him? I even remember that once when I asked for a few days’ extension to complete an important interview, I received a scathing letter telling me that I was a diva and should show due respect and mend my ways. This publisher and I never worked meaningfully together again.
It was the same with every other person in the room. They were all successful, accomplished, generous people as we sat there. Yet each had a tale to tell of this publisher viciously ending their relationship over small matters. None had ever worked with the man again, though they had once known great success with him.
I remember thinking of my naïve dreams for publishing when I began writing books. I hoped for a relationship with a publisher that might last decades. We would serve each other well and do great things together. One day, in my old age, we would have a great celebration of all we had done together through the years.
That first experience with that first publisher disabused me of my misty hopes. Still, I felt sorry for how it had all unfolded.
Now I’m telling you this because there is a truth of leadership in it. Healthy long-term relationships are a sign of a vibrant soul and a capacity for human kindness. You admire a man who has friends of many decades, who still fishes or hunts with that friend from high school.
Yet the man whose life is a series of broken relationships, whose history is strewn with bodies so to speak, is a man you should regard with caution. If his past is littered with discarded relationships, if he speaks with spite of those he has known, something is wrong, and you have no guarantee it won’t go wrong again on your watch.
Take a moment to look back over your history. Can you name a best friend? Do you walk closely with people you’ve known for years? Do you have a big-hearted compassion for those on your team and can you envision knowing and enjoying them forever?
On the other hand, do you feel small and competitive, even angry, toward those who succeed while they are teamed with you? Do you attack them and resent them all your days? Do you speak in cutting, snarling ways about them—ways that others notice and find repugnant?
I want you to have a long life of leadership with deep friendships and work partners who are part of your story for years. I want you to have rich, noble relationships that help make you the best leader you can be. I don’t want you to look back over a professional life strewn with bodies and bitter separations.
Take stock. Be honest. Get help. Make changes. You can do it. Live bigger than you ever have.