A few Sundays ago, while visiting family out of state, our family spent the day with my husband’s cousin Katie. She came after church and stayed until after our three daughters went to bed. The picture of her in our wedding album is a pre-teen grinning at the camera; now, she is a doctoral candidate in economics – nearly 30 — who teaches intro level business courses at a state college near her home while researching her dissertation.

After a cook-out, Katie joined in our afternoon activities: play-doh at the table, a walk outside to check out the soybeans growing nearby, a seemingly endless game of War. At dusk, Katie chased our daughters around the pond, picking them up and twirling them around. She sat on my daughter’s bed and listened to her read, encouraging her efforts, taking turns with each page.

Along the way, we squeezed in bits of conversation about a crisis she is having right now in her work life. Mostly, I listened. Once the girls were sleeping, she took a deep breath and then shared the whole story, one that is about work but also about friendship, faith, and risks.

During our day together, I made a connection with Katie that is giving me an opportunity to influence her and support her at this critical time in her life. Later, she sent me a text and followed up with a phone call.

“Yesterday was one of the best days I have had in a long time. You helped me see what is really important in life, family and love, and now I know what I want.”

Katie reminded me of something important, also. In order to lead and influence others, we have to be available and intentional in our relationships.

The best way to lead others is to invite them into your life, whatever it might look like. As you invite others along  — to the boardroom, the classroom, or the playground — you create an environment that allows your relationship to grow.

Relationships take time, sometimes years:  time when we build a foundation of love and respect. Yet when we make ourselves available to others, we may have the opportunity to have a significant impact by giving encouragement, direction, or help.

A happy postscript: In the weeks since I wrote this post, our family got news that we will soon be moving back to my husband’s hometown. We look forward to many more happy afternoons spent with my daughters’ favorite cousin Katie.


This was originally posted at Mountain State University LeaderTalk and is re-posted with permission.