The Secret Sauce
David Freund, Chief Leadership Officer

Last week I wrote about my dear friend Mike Palanacki who passed away suddenly a month ago. Mike was a master of recognizing people’s giftedness and shining a light on them. What was it that helped Mike do this? What was the secret sauce to his abilities? As I thought about it this week, I realized that his secret sauce was his ability to connect with people.

Mike began with the realization that our life is a journey, and he wanted his journey to matter. He saw interactions with people as a gift from God that he wanted to make the most of. Mike knew that for a connection to occur, each person needed to feel these three things:

  • That he cared for them as a person – In a world where few seem to slow down and take the time to care for others, Mike’s love of people drew others to him. We all knew he really cared about us.
  • That he could help them – Mike wasn’t looking for anything from anyone. He modeled servant leadership, and his joy and reward were seeing people achieve their fullest potential.
  • That they could trust him – When you interacted with Mike, you sensed that he saw you for who you were and could become. His focus was always on others, and it was never about him or his life. People naturally trusted him and would open up and be very real with him.

Mike listened—not just in a casual way. Mike really listened. So often, he would remember small details that would be very important to a person. Mike knew that I liked wooden boats and knew that I had restored one with my dad. A lot of people know that, but Mike remembered the brand of boat I have.

It was so easy to connect with Mike because he shared his passion and excitement for his faith, his family, and his church, in that order. He loved life, from the people he met to the meals he ate and the glass of wine he would share with you.

Lastly, Mike had high expectations for those he connected with. He expected a lot from himself and expected no less from you. It was his way of saying, “You are worth it, and you have an amazing future.” When Mike was around, you wouldn’t be able to sell yourself short.

Recently I conducted two trainings on John Maxwell’s Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. Looking at the PowerPoint slides, I saw my friend Mike on each page. Yup, Mike’s secret sauce was the ability to connect. He was a master at it. The good news is that all of us can learn to be like Mike.