I was once referred to as "a genuinely likeable fellow." The gentleman that used those words was an old school Southerner from the low country of South Carolina. (Please go back and read that first sentance using your best low country accent to achieve the full experience.) At that moment, I wasn't quite sure if that was a variation on "bless your heart" or a real complement. Over time, I've come to appreciate that comment and the attributes of someone's character that make them "genuinely likeable." Based on my unscientific analysis of genuinely likeable people, they all seem to share these qualities:
- They make you feel better just by being around them
- They always have time to listen and provide counsel
- They treat you the same no matter the time of day or environment
- They are always ready to help you solve a problem
The "genuinely likeable" often find that these qualities are part of their core personality. However, like most things in life, it takes work to maintain a state of genuine likeability. Some days are better than others. The genuinely likeable are always working to try to make more days better. Now, I'm not sure if I'm really "genuinely likeable" all of the time. My wife is probably the best person to speak on that because she sees all of the highs and lows. However, I have met a few people in my life that are absolutely genuinely likeable.
Lately, I've used my social media accounts more for verifying social network sign up functionality than I have for actually sharing things or staying up-to-date on what my friends are doing. (Sorry friends - I'll try to do better) While I was testing some facebook integration this week, I ran across several posts that made me pause and take a moment.
The first set of posts were all about Craig Walker, a friend from high school, passing away. I knew Craig had been sick for a while but his death still shocked me. You just never expect a great dad, husband and friend to pass away after only being on earth for a relatively short period of time. Craig was definitely a genuinely likeable fellow. Craig was on another level of genuine likeability. Compared to Craig, I'm downright ornery at times. My favorite Craig moments actually came after high school. I was working in Greenwood, SC at Fujifilm (there's a high concentration of genuinely likeable folks there). I'd just finished up at graduate school in computer science and was working on a new manufacturing execution system for one of the factories. Starting up a new factory or replacing a manufacturing system is a lot like working at an early stage company. There are a lot of long days working on a lot of really difficult problems. Everyone is depending on these systems to run the business. One morning I was in my cubicle working on the big bug fix of the day and a familiar face pops up over the cubicle wall. It was Craig. He was working in the HR department and he treated me like no time had passed at all since high school. We both stopped to catch up. It was a highlight of the day at the time. Now, after being a little older and wiser, I realize just how special it is to encounter someone from an earlier chapter of your life and not miss a beat even though you may have had many chapters in between that didn't include the same cast of characters. Craig treated me the same way in my post-graduate school/early career chapter as he did in my high school chapter. He was still joking and laughing and that made all the difference that morning. Craig's friends from high school and his current friends in the Greenwood area all were sharing similar stories about him. Even though we all knew Craig from different chapters of our lives, he maintained his genuine likeability throughout. That's not an easy task given all the things going on today that push and pull you in different directions. Being a consistent friend and counselor for your team or community is incredibly important to ensure the success of that group.
As I scrolled through post after post sharing awesome stories of Craig's genuine likeability, I encountered posts about another friend passing away. For a moment, my normal news feed switched from "look what I'm eating", "look where I am" and "look what I can do" to a series of thoughtful tributes to two of the most genuinely likeable folks I've ever known. The second friend, F. Hugh Atkins, was from a more recent chapter of my life. Hugh was pretty much retired when I first met him but he always seemed to still be working on something. He was a successful business man. He'd often tell me stories involving Jerry Richardson, owner/founder of the Carolina Panthers, and other powerful and influential people that he had done business with over the course of his life. Roads (I-85) and bridges have his name on them. Yet Hugh still maintained his genuine likeability after achieving levels of success that would cause many to develop a bit of arrogance and become unapproachable. Hugh was always interested in the things I was doing at work. He always knew when to break out one of his funny stories. I'd be excited to attend events just because I knew Hugh would be there and I could hang out with him and the other cool tenors that had adopted me into their group. Today I've received a number of text messages from people in the area saying that they were sorry to hear about Hugh passing away. I'm not related to Hugh. I only knew Hugh in the later chapters of his life. People from all backgrounds, beliefs and walks of life knew that I had a tremendous amount of respect for Hugh and they reached out to check in with me because they knew that he was such a positive influence on me. I've heard about Hugh being mentioned in most church services around town today. There was no need to form a committee or debate or vote on whether or not Hugh Atkins was the man. Everyone just knew it because he always made you feel like the man (or the woman) when you were around him. Hugh lived a much longer life than Craig, but they both had an incredibly positive impact on all of the folks they encountered.
When I was younger, I wanted to be the strongest, the smartest, ... the most-likely to be an action hero. Now, I believe living a life of genuine likeability is one of the highest recognitions you can receive from your friends and peers. It's not something you can earn during a 60 minute game or a few years of study or work. Working with friends, co-workers and customers each and every day to help make their lives better (even if it's in some small way) is incredibly fulfilling and appreciated in ways you may never know.
Craig and Hugh both loved football. Craig enjoyed reminding us about The University of South Carolina's win streak over Clemson in recent years. Hugh would always let me know what he thought about Clemson's most recent performance (good and bad). Today, while many of us pause to watch the Super Bowl (and the commercials), I'll be toasting Craig and Hugh and all of the other genuinely likeable folks that make our world a little more fun.