Who do you surround yourself with? Why no man is an island.

Who do you surround yourself with? Why no man is an island.

Humans are social beings by nature. So it is only natural the people we hang with will have a significant impact on our lives, personally and professionally. This article, written by John Williams, an experienced ontological leadership coach, explores the anecdotal and scientific evidence around partnership and examines how to find and keep great people in your life.


Oct 25, 2022

7 mins read

How often do we hear people say, “It’s all about hard work” or, “In the end, it comes down to luck”?  No human can work past the point of exhaustion. Far too many people literally work themselves to death and never ‘make it’, so that can’t be true. What about luck?  Does success in life come down to pure luck? But hang on, too many people create the lives they want for success to merely come down to luck. There has to be more to it than hard work and luck. As human beings, we are social creatures by nature. So it makes sense that the people we ‘hang’ with will influence our lives far more than how hard we work, how lucky we are, or even how smart we are. Let’s explore the notion that ‘no man is an island’ further and look into how the people we surround ourselves with influence our effectiveness, wellbeing and fulfilment in all facets of our lives.

The well-worn cliché, “It’s not what you know but who you know that counts”, exists for a good reason. In the 2017 documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, the renowned investor and subject of the film made it clear that the most significant decision of his life was choosing who to marry. In the documentary, Buffett highlights “two turning points” in his life: “one when I came out of the womb and one when I met Susie”. Susan (Susie) was Buffett’s first wife, who died in 2004. He went on to admit, “What happened with me would not have happened without her,” and stressed, “You want to associate with people who are the kind of person you’d like to be, [then] you move in that direction”. What’s more, research backs this up. 

Research into supportive partners from Carnegie Mellon University

A 2017 study conducted by the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University discovered that people with supportive spouses were more likely to take calculated risks leading to greater rewards. The study revealed the level of support and encouragement a ‘significant other’ provides can either help or hinder one’s ability to thrive. Naturally, that is only part of the story. Susan Buffett clearly brought a whole lot more than support to the table to make her so significant in the success of her partnership with Warren. Furthermore, choosing the right life partner is not all that counts when it comes to living your life your way. Selecting the right business partners, employees, team captains and other key players is also critical. Consider the impact on your life of choosing the wrong person for any of these roles.  

In my latest series of articles, I have talked extensively about the importance of:

Now I want to take a step back from these topics by asking: how do you find and keep the right people in your life? Why? Because surrounding yourself with the right people is a prerequisite to achieving the first three points and avoiding the fourth. We all have differences, which can be easily overlooked if the time and due diligence is not done to identify and address them before leaping in and consolidating a relationship. It does not matter which significant relationship we are discussing, the rules are all the same, and you ignore them at your peril. 

What constitutes a ‘good relationship’

In offering an opinion on this vexed question, I refer to Ashkan Tashvir’s Being Framework and consider which Aspects of Being humans really resonate as being essential to have present in any sustainably workable relationship. We can start with;

  • Awareness of self, situation, and others.
  • Integrity – Are both parties ‘whole’ and ‘complete’ as individuals and, therefore, up for the journey planned for this relationship? 
  • Vulnerability and Authenticity – Are you sure you are not dealing with an imposter who is unwilling to remove their ‘mask’? 
  • Care – What other cares or areas of focus does this person have that might distract them from the path you’ve chosen to walk together?  
  • Responsibility – Does this person really understand what you’re asking of them, and can you trust them to deliver?  
  • Commitment and Presence – Do they understand the commitment you are making together, and do they have the capability to be present in the relationship?  
  • Higher Purpose – Are your visions and dreams for the future aligned, or at a minimum, will the relationship serve to facilitate both of your Higher Purpose goals? 
  • Contribution – Are you willing to contribute to this individual and accept their contribution to you? 

If all of the above are healthy and ticked off, you have a pretty good chance of creating a solid Partnership (another Aspect of Being in the framework). 

Know thyself

How can you tell how well your potential partner stacks up on the above Aspects of Being? Firstly, draw breath and don’t be in a hurry; discoveries of this magnitude take time.  Next, consider: how well do you know yourself? As Socrates is credited with saying, “Man know thyself; then thou shalt know the Universe and God”. The Being Framework enables you to get to “know thyself” with clarity by understanding how you relate to each of the above qualities (and the other Aspects of Being Tashvir’s work covers). By raising your awareness of your relationship with these qualities, you will also increase your awareness of how others relate to them. The more polished you become, the more you will understand the qualities required to live a life where these qualities show up as a matter of course because they become an expression of who you are, who you are being. 

Taking up the challenge to “know thyself” and to work on making yourself the best version of you will have the pleasant side effect of putting you in the company of others on the same journey. The more polished you become, the more life will start to flow, and opportunities and people to partner with will begin showing up in your life. People will want to contribute to your mission. This is where knowing your Higher Purpose comes in pretty handy if you don’t want to miss out on the exponential growth that’s possible when contribution from others is facilitated.  

How do you attract really cool people?

Given ‘who you hang with’ matters, how do you attract and retain really cool, authentic, motivated, caring humans into your organisation, business and life? The answer is you become a really cool, authentic, motivated and caring human! It’s a conscious decision that requires the vulnerability to look within, own the good, the bad and the ugly, and accept and deal with reality rather than telling yourself what you want to hear. This takes Courage, another Aspect of Being. Facing reality and deciding you want and deserve better and that you will take the necessary actions to bring this change about is far easier said than done. The ancient Greeks had a word for this: Andreia, the virtue of taking yourself on. 

The same formula applies to entire companies. To attract and retain great staff, become a great place to work. How do you do that? Address your culture. It is not about perks and payments; it’s about purpose and communication, and it starts at the very top. No company can transform with a leader who has not undertaken personal transformation. It’s easy to understand why if you think of culture as, dare I say it…a virus! The most virulent strain is introduced by the CEO before passing quickly through the management team and down to the shop floor, making less virulent strains redundant.

While a vaccine may be available to protect against a ‘virus’ in your organisation, it generally requires outside intervention. The Being Framework and its associated tools offers the opportunity for this intervention. It makes individuals aware of whether they are contributing positively or negatively to the team they are part of or leading, while also providing a window into the organisation's overall culture.

Based on this Greek concept, I have spent several years developing an approach called the Andreia Method to support people in "taking themselves on". Feel free to contact me here to learn more about it.

RelationshipsAwarenessIntegrityBeing FrameworkAssertive Communication

John Williams
John Williams

About The Author

John's skills lay in ensuring you are operating at your peak so you can honour the commitment you’ve made to yourself and Be the leader you were born to be. Leaving school at 17, he went straight into the workforce. By 23, he was a General Manager. He climbed to the top of his profession as a senior manager in a billion dollar, multinational trading company where he simultaneously led projects in Europe, Asia, America and back in his home in Australia. In his 40’s, he earned an EMBA, studied negotiation at Harvard Business School, and gained a Professional Certificate in Arbitration. He is a son, husband, father, step father and grandfather who for over 30 years has been studying what makes some people successful while others are stuck in ever decreasing loops. What he has discovered is that we need to go beyond what we’re ‘doing’ and look at who we are ‘Being’.

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