Better than Average

Take your spot in anyone’s top-5, by simply flexing your humanity

You’ve heard it a thousand times before, “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” This little nugget of wisdom attributed to the late, great Jim Rohn is a simple way of illustrating just how influential the relationships we have in our life can be.

It’s funny sometimes just how nonchalant we can be with the people we share ourselves with. Often, we don’t even recognize the influence had on us by others—for good or for bad—until one day, we’re standing in the mirror wondering what the hell happened.

With relationships, intention is key. Sure, seeking out and identifying people to surround yourself with who can help you achieve personal or professional goals is dandy. Obviously, it’s a must-do. However, if you are finding people for the sole purpose of bolstering your own personal growth you might not be properly motivated. What if, instead of the selfish act of surrounding ourselves with the best top-5 we can assemble, we flipped the script and worked to become worthy of making someone else’s list?

But how? It can be easy for us to spot those by whom we would like to be surrounded by. Maybe they have a great family, a good reputation, a massive social following, a successful YouTube channel, fame, fortune, success, etc. Things they either have—or have convinced you they have—that are what you want for yourself. But if the tables were turned and you were interviewing for the role of the 3-spot in somebody’s inner circle, what kind of characteristics would you want to embody? writer Jason Demers has identified a handful of traits that I think most would agree would do the job in his piece called “7 Key Qualities of an Effective Mentor”. While we’re not talking specifically about mentorship in this article, these five feel especially apropos to this discussion:

  1. Ability and willingness to communicate what you know
  2. Approachability, availability, and the ability to listen
  3. Honesty with diplomacy
  4. Inquisitiveness
  5. Compassion and genuineness

These categories, while broad-reaching, do an excellent job in my mind illustrating the kinds of things you would want from someone on your list. Conversely, should you embrace them in your own life, the more suitable you might be for the list of another. Let’s dig in.

Ability and willingness to communicate what you know.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ― William Arthur Ward

Because you have probably already developed skills and knowledge that others deem valuable, your ability and willingness to communicate that which you know is likely the reason you’d be considered for a role in someone’s top-5. Others feel like they could learn from you, or minimally, your skill set could contribute to the odds of them accomplishing their goals. But just knowing things doesn’t make you a great asset. You must also be able to relay what you know to those who ask. The ability is every bit as valuable as the willingness, maybe moreso. To check this box, take stock of the things you know, but also consider how able you are to impart that knowledge on others.

Approachability, availability, and the ability to listen.

Exactly the traits you’d hope to find in any relationship: approachability, availability, and the ability to listen are imperative if you have any hope of angling for that top spot. In fact, if you are derelict on any of these three items, you can just plan to be taken out of the running.

Hand-in-hand with the ability and willingness to share what you know and teach others, these characteristics are a requirement to do so effectively. It’s mighty hard to convey knowledge to a willing recipient if they don’t want to come near you because of your raging RBF. Further, if you aren’t present physically—or at minimum, digitally—then why bother? You’ll be easily replaced by someone who is willing to show up.

Finally, and maybe the most crucial aspect of this category is the ability to listen. It goes without saying that the skill of active listening can be one of the most valuable tools in your quiver. Not just in terms of making someones list, but in life! Relationships are a two-way street and require more than you merely blurting out whatever happens to cross your mind regardless of what’s being said. You’ve got to be able to listen wholly and accurately so that you can respond appropriately and give the proper respect to the person you are talking to.

Honesty with diplomacy

One reason a person may consider having you in their top-5 is that they hope to share ideas with you, then apply your knowledge or expertise to them. To do so effectively, you must work to offer wholly, objective, and candid feedback to them. It doesn’t serve your list keeper well to offer them feedback that is dishonest or is otherwise designed to protect them from themselves.

Some people, especially those ascribed to the “radical candor” school of thought, may confuse honesty with being blunt, to the point, and sometimes flat out rude. But that isn’t what I’m suggesting here. Honesty with diplomacy is about giving an honest appraisal while providing constructive, thoughtful and useful insight. It’s not about telling your listee what they want to hear. Instead, it’s telling them that which you know they need to hear. The point isn’t to ruffle feathers, it’s about encouraging serious improvement and progress towards goal.


“I think, at a child’s birth if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Curiosity is the fuel that propels progress. As such we should all work be working to express that trait in our dealing with others. Caring and empathy, driven by an authentic curiosity, will make you a great advisor and a worthy addition to a person’s hit list. This becomes especially clear if you consider the opposite. One who is not curious would lack the necessary interest in the work of others to lend meaningful attention to it and, as such, has no place on anybody’s list.

Compassion and genuineness

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive." ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

In case it wasn’t self-evident by this point, each item on this list is not mutually exclusive. You may have even observed the blatant crossover between them. You do not get to pick and choose which of these many traits to exemplify. The converse, however, is true. You really must epitomize the whole of them to be worthy of consideration for anyone’s top-5.

As we explored in our discussion of honesty with diplomacy above, compassion and genuineness are prime examples of the kinds of characteristics you would demand from anyone with whom you hope to develop a relationship. This is especially key in a person you will allow to have massive influence over your decision making. The two traits go hand in glove. For if you are truly compassionate, you cannot help but be genuine.

You can do it

“Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful.” - Harold Ramis

There is nothing profound in the comments above. Nothing you wouldn’t have expected to be important in terms of the qualities one should possess in order to be snugly nestled in among an individuals most valued advisors. And that is great news! Why you ask? It’s great because it’s likely you already contain nearly all you need to make the cut. It’s part of being human! Sure, we might need to dig deep and reveal our better selves, practice, and set our intentions to improve in a few categories, but the necessary bricks and mortar exist in all of us.

It’s not about being the best, most-impressive business guy. It’s not about your cool cars or all you’ve accomplished. It’s about them — your list keeper — and what you can do to make their lives better. How could you leverage your expertise to help them meet or exceed goals? Could your honest appraisal of their project give them the juice they need to get to the next level? Of course! By simply shifting your mentality from what you stand to gain to a service mindset, you will be infinitely capable — and worthy — of impacting anyone lucky enough to count you in their top-5.

More to do

What do you do to stand out in the crowd of people who think they are good enough to be in one’s top-5 but are really looking out for number one? Is there anything I missed? What else could we do to serve others better? Tell me why dontcha!? Join me here in the comments or feel free to find me on the socials to take this conversation wherever the audience most suited to hear it can get involved - I am @ryanroghaar here on Medium, Twitter, and Instagram and click here to find me on LinkedIn.