The Accidental Tourist is one of my favorite movies because of one line in it: “What matters in a relationship is who you are when you’re with that person.”  The main character, played by William Hurt, says this to his ex-wife when explaining why he’s choosing to be with the wild and crazy Geena Davis character instead of getting back with her, the ex-wife, played by Kathleen Turner.  She is just as quiet and risk-averse as he is; with her he’s the accidental tourist, traveling to exotic places in such a way as to be left untouched by them.  With Geena Davis, he suddenly becomes engaged in his life rather than a bystander.

I went to Colorado last week to visit friends, and I realized that the Accidental Tourist principle applies to friendships as well as romantic relationships.  I am blessed to have many good friends, all of them wonderful people in their own ways, but there is a big difference between who I am with my friends here in New Hampshire and who I am with my friends in Colorado.  In New Hampshire I’m an overweight, stressed, out-of-shape business owner focused on working most of the time and having an occasional dinner or happy hour with my friends.  In Colorado I’m a mountain-biking, kayak-paddling, hiking and running adventure maniac for whom work is a means to the good life and not an end in itself.  Yes, I’m still fat and out-of-shape, but everyone remembers the racer, ski instructor and mountain rescuer I used to be and could be again, so I see a different image when I look in the mirror.  And the zest for life that being with those Colorado friends brings out in me translates to a higher level of creativity and energy that I can put back into my work.

As business leaders we would do well to remember this when we’re putting teams together.  Do team members bring out the best in each other, or just the opposite?  Gervase Bushe, in his article Managers Want Tribes, Not Teams, says: 

“I think each of us has an image of ourselves at our best, and we are naturally more attracted to those groups where we see that image reflected back to ourselves.  One person wants to have his creativity noticed.  Another wants to be valued for her hard work and persistence.  A third wants to be admired for her balanced and fair-minded judgments, while a fourth wants his courage and risk-taking applauded.  I think the groups they identify with will be those in which those qualities are noticed, valued and encouraged.” 

He goes on to say that this requires us to look at role complements.  For one teammate to be seen as creative, another must be intrigued.  For someone to be risk-taking, others must support that risk.  If you want your team to be truly energized and engaged, watch the effect they’re having on each others’ self-image.  Are they supporting the values of the team and leveraging each others’ strengths?  If not, it might be time to make some changes.

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