Great Men and Regular Men

One and all, great leaders are far more careful than most men in dealing with people.  They take precautions which lesser men neglect. They know that only through other people is it possible to succeed.

            Whenever we stop for a second to consider the difficulties we may be facing, our success and setbacks, we will find other people at the root of most of these difficulties.  Pay close attention that I mentioned setbacks AND successes.  It is no accident that Charles Schwab was considered to be America’s greatest salesman and built of one of the biggest steel companies in the world.  Similarly, Theodore Roosevelt was known for his congenial manner and his ability to make whomever he was talking to seem as important as he was for the moment. Henry Ford had an understanding for the needs and wishes of the crowd, as well as the individual.  There is an art to influencing people and if you wish to get anywhere in life, it may be high time for you to learn it.

Most of the time we see successful business people and successful people in general acting upon what we might consider being an innate understanding of what’s going on around them.  We see them make almost magical moves and sometimes it seems as if everything they touch turns to gold.  Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, and Bill Gates come to mind.  Of course, they all worked as hard as they could and they were prepared for whatever lucky break came their way, but lots of people do that on a daily basis. What is it that really helps catapult a person into the next level or dimension of success?  Most of the time, these men are utilizing sound psychological principles which they themselves cannot even put into words.  It is no accident that we see the assistants’ of those people we truly consider to be successful go on to achieve great things as well.  If you want to learn about music you take music lessons and taking them from a Master is all the more important. Those assistants; witness day after day their bosses overcome almost insurmountable difficulties by getting people to like them.  They learn how to “question and answer well” by watching the success of it in action.

While it may seem silly, Theodore Roosevelt had an uncanny knack of being able to influence people and lead them because he, like many others, took the time to listen to them.  Here was a man who had enjoyed high adventure and had the capability to hold an audience in absolute awe regaling them with his many wondrous tales.  But Roosevelt knew that to be a President his connection with people must go much further than just an admiration of the things he had done. At one particular dinner, on a campaign trip in Omaha, following his return from a hunting trip in Africa in 1912 we find a particularly fitting description of how he did this. At this dinner, he asks a close friend to tell him about a group of individuals across the table from him.  After he has learned what each one is proud of, what he likes and what their interests are, Roosevelt now has a topic of conversation for each man at the table.

Asatru has a built device for such occurrences.  We call it Sumbel. It is a wonderful ceremony that allows us to connect. Our ability to connect and communicate effectively is at the heart of our ability to become successful.  How many times have you seen the most competent and educated man NOT get the job or the work he has been so diligently trying for?  How many times has it happened to you?  All of the preparation and study and learning we need to do for this outline to be successful in your life requires that you use it in order to connect with people.  Connecting with people may also require one to realize that they are not the most important person in the room, but given the right frame of mind and a willingness to set your ego aside, you will be surprised just how fast you can become one of the most important people in any room.

At a recent Winter nights celebration, I began to notice groups of 6 – 10 people forming little clicks all on their own, each one slightly set apart from the other.  All of them wished to be known or to make new friends but as I spent my time walking between each group, I began to think that perhaps a formal blot might not be the thing I wanted to use to help build a community.  So we formed up to enjoy a sumbel.  As we passed the horn around, instead of asking the questions we needed too so as to get to know the other person, lo and behold they began to give it away to the group as a whole.  Each person found something in common with the next person and we all sat in a large group for the rest of the night.  Fast friendships were made that night that are still in good standing today.  Our community was given a chance to grow because I stepped aside from roles that I and others considered to be important in leading the blot in order that others may have a chance to express themselves.  We each found out a little about the other in those solemn rounds.  In the presence of what we consider divine, we allowed ourselves to reaffirm the idea that each of us is important enough to allow the other man to be who he is supposed to be.

In the Havamal, we find a bit of instruction to help us take this concept a little further.

  1. A man shall not boast of his keenness of mind, but keep it close in his breast;

To the silent and wise does ill seldom come

When he goes as a guest to a house;

For a faster friend, one never finds than wisdom tried and true.

7 The Knowing guest, who goes to the feast, in silent attention sits;

With his ears he hears, with his eyes he watches,

Thus all men are wary.

These two very simple and straightforward stanzas seem to be quite difficult to understand in today’s world.  Everywhere around us we see so many people given their own reality TV shows and instant fame by showing off and running off at the mouth about what they think they know.  When was the last time you took the opportunity to set aside your own ego and do your best to listen to the people around you? If you want to achieve the success you are desirous of, if you want people to look at you in a new and favorable light, consider for a second how important it is to understand what we are being told in the lore, take the time to get to know who you are going to be dealing with and engage them in such a manner that it makes them; not you, feel important.

The premise of this idea is so simple, yet so often it is overlooked, misunderstood or a person just cannot do it.  Its seriousness is such that physicians, lawyers, police officers and all manner of public officials are trained to listen to people in the daily operation of their profession.  Why would we not use this same level of commitment when the time comes for us to make an investment in the most worthwhile piece of property we own.  Ourselves.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the relationship with your family, your co-workers, and the boss or that very important interview or sale. There are two things we absolutely must do to begin our road to success.  One: we must take the time to do a little research about who we are dealing with. We’ve seen how Teddy Roosevelt approached this situation but there are numerous examples of people we all admire doing the same thing.  Charles Schwab, the man who built the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, considered the understanding of other men’s interests an important tool of leadership.  As the head of the Emergency Fleet Corporation, he encouraged the Admiral in charge to build 50 new ships instead of the record high mark of 31.  Somehow, he figured out that the Admirals hobby was Jersey cows.  Mr. Schwab offered him the best jersey cow in America if he could do this.  The Admiral set about to meet this new challenge enthusiastically. All manner of salesmen have the good habit of making notes concerning the interests, hobbies, likes, and dislikes of their customers.  How much better would your marriage or work life be if you were to take the same amount of interest in your coworkers or spouse and children?

So it would seem that our first step to building up our success with other people is to take the time to learn about them.  How many times have you heard the statement “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”?  Taking the time, even just a minute or two, to ensure that each of those people you know has a component of quality to it will take you further in life than you can even imagine.  If each of the people you know considers you to be someone who cares enough to remember one of those little details about them, it will change the way they think of you.  Every single time.  It will also allow you to overcome the preconceived notions people may have about you.  You know; the ones given to you by other people.

Secondly, we need to close our mouths and open our ears.  Now that we know or remember something about a person we want to do business with or build a relationship of any kind it is time to listen.  We already have a subject about which they will want to talk.  Let them.  When you actually listen to them you are helping them to feel important.  You are providing, to some small degree a sense of validation that the things they consider to be important really are.  This will go a long way towards helping them view you in a favorable light.  But occasionally, some folk are just naturally people of few words.  If question after question is answered with a yes or no, it has a tendency to put a damper on an up to now successful program of dealing with and influencing people. Suppose you must deal with someone who is older and more experienced than you.  Now what?

During a train with Herbert Hoover, in his private car, a onetime correspondent for The Chicago Daily News spent a quarter of an hour receiving simple “yes” and “no” answers from Hoover.  Here was a chance to get a private interview with one of the most important men of the twentieth century and he was failing.  By sheer accident, he hit upon a time-tested trick in interviewing people.  He made a misstatement of fact concerning something Hoover knew about very well.  He made an offhanded comment about old-fashioned prospecting as they crossed Nevada.  The presidential candidate took him up and corrected him about the advancements being made in modern mining practices. And for nearly 2 more hours he gave his undivided attention to a man he barely knew and the interview of a lifetime.  The reporter took advantage of a tactic which allowed the other man to demonstrate his superior knowledge.  This goes well beyond just validating a person’s belief; here he is actively boosting a man’s ego.

In my time with the US Army, my first Platoon Sergeant was a Vietnam veteran and I was a young E-1.  Our job was to patrol the DMZ in between North and South Korea.  It took everything I could not to dislike the man.  He was hardnosed and had, from what I could tell, an intense dislike of me.  In reality, he couldn’t have cared less what I thought and he was just trying to keep me alive so to speak.  At some point, I tired of the stress of it all and went about trying to use these very tactics to improve the situation.  I began to seek his opinion and work hard to follow his suggestions.  In very short order I was the leader of a squad and using some of the stuff he taught me, I eventually did very well in my service.  This sergeant was working as hard as he could to keep a bunch of soldiers doing their job in a professional manner and none of them seemed to care that he had truly learned it the hard way.  He knew what he was talking about. In taking the steps to learn about his history and listen to him, I reassured him that his efforts were not in vain and I began to succeed myself.

So what all of this comes down to is that we need to listen and learn about whom we are dealing with. We need to do so to the best of our ability and sometimes we have to put our ego in check to accomplish this. It does not matter if it’s with your co-workers, your boss or in front of a crowd, you should remember that you have found yourself there for a reason, don’t let your ego ruin it all by interfering with your ability to connect and get your message across.  I will wager that your future success is far more important than the immediate gratification of your ego and trying to be right all the time.

If you are Asatru and reading this, I am certain that you have seen many times someone sacrifice their future in any number of ways by trying to be right with regards to our faith. There is also what I call a tendency to “lead with the chin” and every time I say it people have no idea what I’m talking about. I’ll discuss that whole issue in a later chapter.

Very rarely have we seen someone come along who has taken the time to try and help Asatruars learn how to live a good life.  Too many conditions have been placed on the quality of the faith to further socio-political agendas.  So let’s try something new.  Let’s try and build upon solid principles which will enable us to work as effectively in the world and as often as possible; even better than the man next to us.  Ansuz has long been believed to be the rune which represents Odin and all the gifts he has to offer to mankind.  Our sense of communication and the inspiration to know how to deal with people is a reflection of his actions.  In the Vafthruthnismol, he asks of Frigga her opinion of what he is about to do, not because he has too or needs too but perhaps it is because he respects his partner that much.  Imagine how important your partner would feel in your life if you treated them as such.  Don’t spin out just yet thinking of all the times in the lore where he has done something else, stick with this example.  The other deeds we will get too later.  Don’t be like the chief deceiver of the gods and sacrifice your seat at the table of the gods because you cannot understand how they interact with one another. Odin goes to extreme lengths to collect the mead of inspiration; likewise, his offering for a drink from Mimir’s well was costly and his sacrifice to earn the runes.  Given what we have read so far in this book, and using just the two tools we have discussed, imagine how much success you would enjoy if you were to take these two examples of learning about the people we are to do business with and then actively listen to them,  to similar, but not necessarily the same, extremes.  What if you really worked at it just as Odin has? In the end, Odin finally has to deal with the one being he knows he cannot conquer, but it does not stop him from doing his best to learn as much as he can and stack the deck in is favor.  He has ensured he will have a legacy that lasts.  You can too.  This is the difference between great men and regular men.

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