Calling Cards

“…a permission slip to a better conversation.” Those words were spoken by a friend who is with the Catholic Charities of Oklahoma on a recent tour for SALLT graduates of the Blessed Stanley Rother Shrine. They made me think about how we initially connect and then continue to maintain connections with people. 

My friend was talking about his involvement in SALLT and how that opened doors for him, a Catholic, to have conversations with people of other faiths. For some reason, it made me think about old fashioned “calling cards” which eventually became the modern-day business card. It used to be that you needed an introduction to have access to people (it doesn’t hurt today, but is much less ‘required’).

Even today, if someone introduces you to someone else, the opinion the person you’re meeting has about the person who is introducing you has a significant impact on what they think of you. The way you will be received, heard (or not), and treated will depend in great part on what that person now thinks of you—just because of your connection to the person who made the introduction. 

What if you are introducing yourself? Remember, I said an introduction is much less required, but there are many ways for someone to be “introduced” to you, and today, we tend to introduce ourselves. Your business card, handshake, first words, are all important, but they are likely not the real introduction. Today the real introduction and the real you is likely spread all over the internet.

This is not a generational issue. It may be true that younger generations are more prone to post on social media, but the internet has made most of your public life and even some of your private life readily available to potential employers, business connections, your banker, and the community at large. You cannot effectively control access or remove anything from the world wide web. Once it is there, it is there forever.

When I was in high school, I liked punk rock, and I liked to dress punk. The clothing and hair was a signal that we were fighting a culture war (against the very people we would become, by the way). The manner in which you dress, the way you speak about people and issues, and the statements you make all identify you to other people and are part of the impression they form of you long before you have time to tell them what you would like them to know. 

In Hamilton, Aaron Burr tells a young, impassioned, and impatient Hamilton to, “talk less, smile more.” He goes on to suggest not letting people know what you are against or what you are for, which is terrible advice, but there is truth here for us. It is not necessary to tell everyone everything you think you know, even about yourself. Over several decades of leadership, my views on many things have changed significantly. I don’t regret the journey, but maybe I shouldn’t have broadcast every single turn I took along the way.

Giving ourselves time to understand what we believe and learn what other people believe before we make our confident and bold statements isn’t denying who we are. Rather, it is honoring who we will become and the impact others will have on us if we allow the connection. 

I have dear friends who I disagree with on too many topics to list. We are not friends because we wave some flag together; we are friends because we found in each other things that are noble and worth learning. The other thing we have in common is that we are rather subdued in how, where, and when we share our convictions. In other words, we smiled a lot and after a while found the ability to talk about anything.

I am not suggesting that you hide what you believe or who you are. I am saying that you do not need to scream it from every platform you can find. Your actions, associations, and words will create a very clear picture of who you are over time. Be patient and work to understand others before you worry about being understood. It will lead to opportunities you would otherwise never even see.

As leaders, if we foster a community where people are valued equally and cared for tangibly, the culture will become our calling card. We will not have to say what we stand for; it will be self-evident. It takes humble leadership and respect for everyone to create that type of culture, but there is no better introduction than to be known for living the Bison Way.