Many of Us Have Forgotten Our Original Dance Partners. But It’s Never Too Late to Fix That  

President Ronald Reagan used to love using the phrase, “Dance with the one that brung ya.” That line, stolen from an old country western song of his youth, summed up who he was and why to this day, he is viewed by many as the greatest President of a generation. Reagan was a man who understood human nature and never forgot who paved the way for his success as an actor and a politician and went out of his way to let them know. It’s a lesson business people need to follow today in a world littered with supposed leaders who conveniently forgot who paved their way. It’s also a stark reminder that we have forgotten how to pave the way for others. 

Then there’s the similar but more recent concept of “pay it forward.” That phrase is one that, although it originated hundreds of years ago, was revitalized by a movement driven by a movie of the same name in 2000. Like many things today, the movement started in a meaningful way before finally being reduced to buying a coffee for the car behind you in the Starbucks drive-thru.   

When you genuinely pay it forward, it’s like an homage to the one who brung you as you are paying tribute to a legacy, a person, a mentor or a business partner. Steve Jobs, unfortunately, forgot that it was Steve Wozniak’s technological brilliance that was also needed to launch Apple. Mark Zuckerberg tossed many of the people who helped him develop Facebook out the door as soon as it gained success. As you have no doubt noticed, success, in some instances, does not breed thankfulness. It, instead, can spawn selfish arrogance. 

You may be reading this and thinking, “Well, that’s not me.” But when was the last time you thanked someone who gave you that first break, that first loan, that first advice that made you feel like you had the ability to reach your dream?

More commonly, business leaders should reflect on whether a referral that helped their company grow might not have been returned. Referrals should not be a one-way street. When they are given, it is reasonable to expect a referral to come back. When they don’t, those relationships tend to dry up quickly. 

Then there’s the case of mentorship. All of us in business can think of someone who gave their time and counsel to put us on the right path. Who are you mentoring? When was the last time you sat an entrepreneur down and gave them your advice? How about something simple like making a recommendation so someone you’ve worked with in the past can get a better job?  

In an incredibly self-absorbed world, never forgetting the one “who brung you” is the best way to lead by example and empower the next generation of entrepreneurs. Plus, it just feels good to thank the people who have paved the way for your success.