Bridges or Towers

Sooner or later, we might realize we have a future in our organization and can make an impact. It took me about sixteen years to see this clearly. I hope most of you will see it sooner than I did. Regardless, once we figure it out and commit, we have to make a decision on how we’ll go forward to do great things. Specifically, we have to choose between building a bridge or a tower.

Bridges are relationships that take time to build as we share opportunity and realize that success is not ours alone. It’s not a fast shot to stardom, but a consistent and likely gradual uphill climb. It takes some humility and hopefully a sense of humor. Here’s the great thing about bridges: You can build as many as you want.

More often than not, you end up as high as you need to be, and after learning a habit of building bridges, you have a group of successful people around you who you’ve worked with over the years. You have a support system of people who’ve all benefitted from those relationships, and soon you find your group of peers as the voices of reason for various aspects that all need to come together to make an organization successful. If this sounds like an ideal situation, well, it is. Building relationships with people who can help make you successful, and sharing opportunity with those people when it comes knocking, is better for just about everyone.

I didn’t shoot to the top, and I’m not really at the top, but I’m as high as I need to be. I’m here because I was well mentored, I built a bridge or two, and I learned that this is a lot more fun when I’m sharing the experiences with peers and those who will sooner or later replace me. And yes, some of those bridges either burned or fell apart over time, but most of them have stayed intact over the years. When I realized I had potential, I reached out for guidance and was rewarded with some great friendships and the chance to do more than I’d ever hoped to.

Sadly, many people see their own potential and immediately look to the sky. They don’t reach out to build bridges and relationships. They start building a tower to get as high as possible by the fastest means. This is a natural response to seeing opportunity, and I think we’ve all done it at least once.

The statement “It’s lonely at the top” is painfully true, but we don’t truly understand that until we get there. All too often, people at the top find themselves without much of a safety net or support system. Once you’ve made it upward at whatever pace, the best support network you’ll have will be the one you brought up with you, not one that’s magically waiting for your arrival at the top.

For those who invest time into their relationships early, mentors become colleagues, co-workers become friends, and those you rely on will come to rely on you. When things get hard or difficult decisions need to be made, it’s comforting to know that you have help and know who you can rely on.

For those who build a tower, who shoot straight up without the inclination or time to build a solid and broad base of relationships and an understanding of how things happen, it’s easy for them to lose their balance when things get dicey. These people find themselves trying to do too much alone, making decisions in a vacuum, and often burning out early.

A network of bridges, of relationships that gradually move everyone towards goals as they go, is more stable, more sustainable, and can hopefully eliminate single points of failure where one bad decision can bring a person crashing down in front-page-news fashion.

I’ve seen it done both ways, and I know people who are very successful in their towers, but I prefer building these bridges. If you don’t bring people with you along your journey to the top, you’ll likely find yourself alone when you get there.

– Have you found yourself moving up the ladder and realized that your support system was falling behind?

– Is there some opportunity you can share to bring some of those with the same potential and attitude with you?

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.