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The Power Of Relational Roots In a Transient World

Even in our post-pandemic world, the life of a business leader often involves frequent travel and occasional relocations. We go where the work takes us, and that can make it difficult to put down roots or painful when the time comes to pull them up.

As a result, it’s all too easy to slip into superficial friendships and risk missing out on the valuable contributions from others that only come by intentionally investing in deep, long-term relationships.

I can’t think of many people who demonstrate a more unwavering commitment to these types of relationships than Mike Nolan, which is one of the reasons I’m excited to have him as an upcoming guest on Off The Rak.

Mike is the head coach for the Michigan Panthers of the United States Football League and a former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (2005-2008), so we scheduled his appearance to coincide with the Super Bowl.

We no doubt will talk about leadership through that lens, including the lessons he’s learned while coaching legends like Ray Lewis and Deion Sanders. But one of the things I admire most about Mike has nothing to do with his profession or how he leads others and everything to do with the way he invests in himself and his non-work friendships.

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The commitment he demonstrates is particularly challenging because coaching, even more than most other professions, is highly transient. Just look at Mike’s coaching journey:

He started in 1981 as a graduate assistant at the University of Oregon and coached at Stanford, Rice, and LSU before moving to professional football. Since 1987 he has worked in the NFL for the Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Washington Redskins, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens, San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, and Dallas Cowboys.

That’s a lot of moves — and a lot of different t-shirts!

So how does a guy who has worked in 10 states (plus DC) and with 16 organizations over four decades develop friendships with anyone who isn’t wearing a helmet or sporting a coach’s whistle?

Mike and his wife Kathy intentionally put down roots in Denver, where he was an assistant coach from 1987-1992 and defensive coordinator in 2009. For years they’ve maintained a home in the Mile High City, and he has split his time between Denver and wherever he’s coaching.

Mike doesn’t just have a house in Denver. It’s home for him and his family. And while I’m sure he has close friends all over the country, I can personally testify that he has deep friendships in Denver. That only happens with intentional effort and commitment, and I’ve seen that commitment firsthand.

Several years ago when Mike was working for the New Orleans Saints, a cardiologist and mutual friend of ours organized a men’s fellowship and Mike and I both joined. Over the years, this group of 12 men has meet regularly to discuss our lives through the perspective of our shared faith.

It’s a unique group in part because our wives are also close friends. So we not only interact in our fellowship, but as couples during golf outings, Christmas parties, and other social events. When one member’s child got married last year in Hawaii, for instance, eight of the 12 couples were there to celebrate the nuptials.

It’s rare that all 12 members of our fellowship show up for every meeting, because we all have busy schedules. But it’s equally rare that someone misses a meeting if they are in town and have no conflict. Despite his professional work in other cities, our group meetings are a priority for Mike. And when you prioritize something, you tend to make the most of it.

Mike could have put down those types of roots in any number of wonderful cities, but he and his wife chose Denver. It’s a decision that has resulted in incredible fruit, not only for him but in my life as well.

I think you’ll find what Mike has to say enlightening — not just about the importance of investing in relationships, but also many other aspects of strengthening your leadership skills. So I hope you’ll join us Feb. 22 for Off The Rak.

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