Tommy Spaulding is the author of “It’s Not Just Who You Know,” a book that builds on Spaulding’s years of experience in building relationships. The first few chapters outline his early childhood experiences – he calls himself “an unlikely prodigy.” As a dyslexic student, Spaulding’s experience in school was unpleasant – he never mastered the skills he needed to succeed academically. But his father made him a gift of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” and it was one of just three or four books that Spaulding has ever read cover to cover. It changed his life.
Spaulding talks about how he developed leadership and relationship building skills as a way to compensate for his lack of academic skills. In part, he wanted to be liked by fellow students, hoping that he’d take less teasing for his academic deficiencies. He also needed something to boost his self esteem. When a high school teacher gave him a business marketing plan as a writing assignment for a class, it turned out to be the assignment that finally allowed his passion to overcome his learning issues. In fact, the plan he created won third place in a national contest.
Spaulding developed leadership skills throughout high school, winning election for class president and achieving other successes. After he sets the stage by talking about his youth, he begins to apply what he learned through these experiences. He calls one of the principles he mastered “The Law of Random Relationships.”
Spaulding tells the story of applying for a prestigious Rotary scholarship, one that will give him a year of study abroad. By the time he applies, Spaulding is in college; he managed to find one small school that would take a chance on his academic record. He applies for the Rotary scholarship and is notified that he is one of ten finalists. Spaulding travels a very long distance back to his home town to meet with the selection committee. When he arrives at a local restaurant for the interview, he sees the group of tense and wary competitors lined up to wait their turn. The finalists’ name tags read like a Who’s Who of prestigious universities: Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. All but Spaulding’s, which read: East Carolina University. His spirits and confidence plunged as he considered the competition. Hoping to ease the tension while waiting (this was 1996, the pre-Blackberry and smart phone era) he struck up a conversation with the only friendly face in the room – the bartender behind the bar. It turns out that the bartender was the owner of the business. Spaulding, always interested in people, nursed a Coke for an hour while chatting about the man’s business.
Spaulding worked hard to convince the committee that he had what it took to be a global ambassador for Rotary while studying overseas. It wasn’t until years later that he learned what happened when the committee tried to make a decision. The ten members split their decision five to five between Spaulding and a young woman from Harvard. Over and over, they debated and voted, but the group remained stubbornly split between Spaulding and the young woman. Finally, the group appealed to the owner of the restaurant as a tiebreaker. “You spent most of the day with these kids; you must have gotten to know them. What do you think?” The bartender replied that he’d gotten to know only one of the students – the one who took the time to talk with him while waiting. He endorsed Spaulding.
Spaulding didn’t realize it at the time, but in retrospect, he believes that this is just one example of random relationships that made a difference in his life. He cites other instances that turned out well: “What if Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield hadn’t been assigned to the same 7th grade gym class?” he muses.
Do you really see people when you are out in the world – or do you lose yourself in your electronic device and never engage them? What Random Relationship might you have missed out on today?