Thought Leader Interview Series — with Randy Hain, Author of “Something More: the Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life”

 by Andrea Chilcote

This fall I’ll be conducting a series of interviews with thought leaders in diverse fields. This one, featuring my colleague Randy Hain, focuses on the topic of relationships and confidence.

Randy, you’re masterful at forming and nurturing relationships. What do you think are the key factors for success in this area?

RandyThank you for the compliment!  I certainly have tried throughout my career to build strong relationships.  I would suggest a pervasive lack of self-awareness and an unbalanced focus on our own needs are the biggest contributors to poorly done business relationships. On the flip side, I have long argued that authenticity, transparency and selflessness are the keys to building successful relationships.   Strong relationships must be built on trust and trust requires authenticity.  Don’t be afraid to be yourself!  I find transparency is also critical for relationships as it not only fosters trust when you are willing to be vulnerable, but it allows the other person to feel safe in responding candidly and openly as well.  Finally, if you desire to build a relationship that lasts, frequently ask:  “How can I help?”  This is a wonderful way to be selfless and pay it forward.  It also reflects a spirit of generosity.  There are certainly other factors to consider, but these three are the ones I consistently observe in helping people form and nurture relationships.

Trust is of course a critical component of strong relationships. When we look beyond the obvious reasons we extend trust to someone (they keep their word, walk their talk, etc…), there are more subtle, interpersonal ways in which we convey trust. Do you have an example of a way in which you or someone you admire does this?

RandyGreat question.  I think my father has long been my role model for how to build trust.  Why?  He is one of the most humble, honest and selfless men I have ever known.  He will always tell you what he really thinks in a kind way and is always the kind of person who wants to help others.  People have always been drawn to my father because he has a well-deserved reputation for being completely trustworthy.  I frequently use him as an example for my own sons as someone they should try to emulate.  In fact, I dedicated my third book, ‘Something More: The Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life” to my father.

How important is genuine self-confidence in being able to forge strong relationships with others?

RandyIn my experience, I have noticed people are typically drawn to confident people.  A self-confident person will typically be able to overcome reservations and fears about reaching out to others, especially people they don’t know well.  This confident reaching out, coupled with transparency and a selfless desire to help others, can form the necessary building blocks to lasting relationships.

You help clients increase the quality and quantity of their business relationships. What are the top mistakes people tend to make in this area, and what do you advise them to do differently?

Randy: I actually have a list!  In my opinion, here are the WORST Business Relationship Practices:

  • Only reach out when you need something.
  • Only talk about yourself.
  • Mistake connections through social media as substitutes for real relationships.
  • Avoid being personal.
  • Fail to be transparent about what you want.
  • Go from “hello” with a new contact to “I want…” without building a trusting and open relationship first.
  • Keep score.
  • Abuse your network with frequent requests.
  • Don’t follow up appropriately.
  • Fail to show gratitude.

What can you do differently?  Try these four actions:

  1. Reflect on your last five encounters with people in your business network.  What were the results?  Be honest. What can you improve? How many of your actions were on the Worst list?
  2. Ask the most honest and candid person you know to give you feedback on how you conduct relationships. Do not seek encouragement or validation. This exercise requires brutal honesty.
  3. Ask for feedback from a failed business encounter.  Ask how they perceived you. Ask how you might have approached them differently. You may not always get feedback (or like what you hear), but if they respond, the lesson is invaluable.
  4. Of course, the most obvious action is to do the opposite of every practice listed above!

Randy Hain is a Partner and co-owner of Bell Oaks Executive Search, a 43 year old national search firm and the Founder and Principal of Serviam Access, a business relationship coaching firm.  Randy serves on the boards of Growing Leaders and the Catholic Charities Atlanta Leadership Class.  He is an award-winning author with three published books and a fourth book, “LANDED! Proven Job Search Strategies for Today’s Professional” due in September. You can learn more about Randy Hain and his work at and follow his blog at The Huffington Post.

Give Yourself An “A”

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. 

Do you have the capacity to fully accept yourself, even in the face of criticism?

What a great lesson I learned from a talk by Brene Brown, bestselling author of Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

With vulnerability comes inevitable criticism. Brown spoke of how she manages the disparaging remarks that come with a public life, and shared a personal technique she has for managing them. She keeps a slip of paper in her purse with the names of three people – the only people – whose opinions of her matter. These three love her despite her flaws, she says. They accept her as is.

I thought about that list all afternoon, and set out to make my own. I tried on so many, yet ended up with only two. While I’m blessed to have many loving friends, I know for sure that these two people love me about as unconditionally as a human being can. In turn, they’re the ones whose opinions of me matter. Isn’t that a funny paradox? The people who accept me regardless of what imperfections I might reveal, are the ones with whom I strive to be my very best.

By the way, my list only contains two humans, but it also contains my three dogs. Don’t roll your eyes – adding them revealed the meaning of my paradox. A human’s unconditional love is limited by his or her own ego and it’s rarely perfect. In my experience, a canine’s love is pure. The very fact that they never judge or criticize me is what makes me want to live up to their expectations, to be the person they believe I am. An inappropriately raised voice is enough to trigger a look from these sensitive ones, and that look stops me in my tracks. It isn’t a look of judgment – far from it.  Rather it’s a look that conveys compassion for whatever feeling triggered the tone. It’s the most pure and loving feedback one can get.

Of course, the humans on my list are a close second when it comes to feedback. I can hear it because of the love that accompanies it. And because they accept my so-called flaws as simply a part of me, “feedback” is almost always reserved for instances in which I lose myself, and I am grateful to be brought back to my senses. It’s clean, simple and authentic. They just don’t seem to have a need to assess and judge indiscriminately, and this makes for a very freeing relationship.

So there. We are at our best when we are free of the opinions of others. Days later, this revelation hit me like another blinding insight into the obvious, and of course there is a mountain of research and evidence to support my observations.

People rise to the positive expectations others have of them.  In his beautiful book, The Art of Possibility, Benjamin Zander tells the story of an experiment he conducted as a teacher. At the start of the semester, he declared that each student had received an A.  He only asked that they write a letter a few months later stating why they got an A grade. His project led him to the conclusion that a grade was a possibility to live into, rather than an evaluative measure.

Like Zander’s students, the two people whose opinions matter to me always give me an “A” to start. And that leads to revelation number two, and why I believe Brown’s choice to dismiss the opinions of those other than her three designees has freed her to make enormous contributions to human awareness and understanding: We can contribute only when we accept that we each have something profound to give.

So many of us are searching for our purpose, our path and our voice. And our voice will never fully reveal itself until we can leave criticisms behind, because in considering them, we hold back.

For some time now, I’ve been thinking about the importance of self-acceptance as a prerequisite for most of the things we say we want in this life. But it’s a daunting, seemingly intangible concept. How does one find the capacity for it if it’s weakened? One small step just might be to dismiss the opinions of others who do not have our highest and best interest in mind.

Try Brown’s exercise. Identify the short list of people whose opinions really matter, then feel how free it can be.

Be Present – Another Reminder

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

Yesterday my long-time client offered up a ground rule at the start of a team meeting. “Be present,” she said, adding: “I got that from you, Andrea, years ago.”

Presence has been a life-long goal, and I’m adept enough at it to feel I’m in integrity when I coach and encourage others to stay in the moment. It is, after all, the only place where there is peace and it’s also the place where most real work gets done.

Oh, I still have a way to go.

This afternoon at 3 pm, after wondering for at least an hour why I felt so irritable, I remembered I had not eaten since 5:45 this morning. A piece of cheese toast, and all was well. But why was I not in tune enough with my own body (present in it) to realize this sooner?

Yesterday, rushing to leave the house, I accused my husband of having my car key. “You drove my car this morning!” I exclaimed, exasperated. “Yes,” he replied calmly. “But I used the spare valet key because yours was nowhere to be found.” I stopped, breathed, and instantly recalled where I had put it the day before. I was reminded that even being momentarily present in my doorway, gathering my things (which included my key) is significant. My mind was already on my drive and destination, though getting there depended on basic mental clarity.

And for my last confession, I offer this small but significant story. Earlier this week, I allowed myself to become distracted by a potential problem. The problem was not real; it was possible, maybe even probable. Several hours later, I learned that a work-around had occurred and all was well. This was a stark example to me that I had squandered time and productivity worrying about something that did not even exist, and eventually never did. Worry is rarely a partner to presence. It is usually a projection of future possibilities, mostly negative ones.

In these three simple examples, in some small way I jeopardized the following.

  • My physical comfort (hunger that led to anxiety)
  • My relationships (irritability with others)
  • My productivity (time wasted worrying)

We all experience these lapses of presence, at least sometimes. And if you share my goal of honoring the moment at hand, perhaps my experiences will remind you to stop and breathe, notice your feelings — and take remedial action where needed.

A Transformative Ear

by Andrea Chilcote

The following post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a weekly blogger. Enjoy it!

I’m heading home after just completing a two-day workshop, “Strategic Coaching,” for a group of high potential, mid-level leaders at a client company. Last night at dinner I described the work to a friend. She said “Andrea, I wish I had those ‘coaching’ tools you teach. Just about everyone I know is going through some kind of transition or trauma, and it would be helpful to know how to respond to them in some way that’s effective, versus hours of endless talk that goes nowhere. We all need these tools in everyday life.”

As I thought about her very valid request, I recalled one of the curiosities of human nature. We want to lean on friends and confidantes when times are tough, but we rarely accept advice. We love to ask, and then habitually respond with all of the reason the advice won’t work.

So how do you actually influence or transform situations, instead of engaging in hours-long or months-long conversations that eventually sap your very life force?  Here are a few suggestions.

Reframe intense emotions by reflecting them.

It doesn’t work to use logic or facts to “calm” a situation when the other person is agitated and expressing feelings, especially intense feelings. I use a tool called “reflecting,” to align first:

“I hear that you’re frustrated when …”

“I can see that you feel angry when …”

These statements allow the other person to feel heard, and thus more able to hear what you have to say next. It’s counter-productive to say “I understand.” You don’t, really.

You can follow with a transition question that will enable you to re-focus the conversation:

“Can we step back and look at the situation objectively?”

“Let’s think through some possible options.”

Acknowledge positive intent.

When something another person says seems illogical or outright wrong, resist the urge to contradict. It sets up a situation much like arm wrestling — the strongest person (or the loudest) eventually wins. Instead, look for the possible positive reason he or she might have for making the seemingly illogical  statement, then acknowledge it.

“You’re a talented and compassionate person with so much to give. Do you really want to quit?”

Acknowledge a differing point of view without agreeing.

You can build confidence in your counsel without agreeing with the other person’s position. Acknowledging another’s point of view does not mean you agree with it, but it goes a long way toward creating an open ear for alternate views.

“I get that you think the best approach is to quit. Are you open to hearing my view of the situation?”