Lessons About Connection – From The Cornerman And The Statesman

The cornerman: A terminology used for the people within the corner of a boxing ring, ready to aid and support the boxer when needed. And, what does a cornerman and a statesman have in common? And how do they have anything to do with connection?

To find out, let's first hear from the General.

From The Surgeon General

“We have a deep and binding need to be seen for who we are.”

This is a simple yet profound quote that has so resonated with me, since the moment I read it. It comes from Vivek Murthy, who served as the 19th Surgeon General of the United States of America, from 2014 – 2017.

I always find it reassuring, and confirming, when people of great influence and power notice the things in life that are generally not given much attention, such as the vital importance of being seen for who we are.

Ever Felt Invisible?

 I sat in a Cape Town Cafe a few years ago, doing what I love best – sipping on coffee, with an open laptop, seeking creativity. These experiences are always fulfilling. I’m drawn like a magnet to the aroma and buzz of this blend of experiences.

But this was not a fulfilling moment. The waitress, according to my first stormy draft of the situation, was mean and utterly disinterested in me. As much as I tried to catch her attention every time she wandered past my table, she showed no interest. Muttering to myself that I have obviously been endowered with the superpower ‘invisible’, I walked to the entrance of the shop and complained in a rather poor manner, declaring how useless their service was and how I will never come back.

I have always remembered that feeling; like you are not seen. And yet, I’d consider my experience rather trivial in comparison to some other scenarios. Imagine not being seen for your potential, your contribution, or for who you truly are – If my coffee shop experience was disempowering, just imagine how disempowering that can be.


Mattering Matters

We all need people who notice us, who see us for who we are, who appreciate us, who witness even the mundane activities of our life. We need people who care about us, and who rely on us in some form or manner. 


Understanding this should prompt two very powerful questions


  1. Who needs to notice me?
  2. Who should I be noticing?


The Commission

I once received this beautiful and un-forgetful request for my coaching services. An old colleague of mine looked me in the eyes, having just landed an executive role in a global organisation, and stated, ‘I need you in my corner.’ She understood that she needed a diverse group of people to support her and notice her in her pursuit of meaning and contribution – no matter how successful she already was.

I like the analogy of the corner. The corner is a boxing term and describes a range of people who stand in the corner of the ring. They see the boxer, they are present with the boxer and their presence supports the boxer’s ambitions.


Corner men are there by design and intent. It may seem strange, but we need to be strategic around our connections, identifying gaps, moving towards the right people, hungry for inclusive and diverse touchpoints, where your ability for resilience, is empowered by those who see you. This takes work and requires trust building behaviours (honest, accountability, clear expectations, etc).

Who needs to notice you? 

Tea With Madiba

If I need to be seen, so do those around me. One of the most beautiful gifts we can give anyone is the simple gift of ‘I see you.’ This does not require money, but simply the gift of attention and connection. Author Nancy Kline powerfully says, ‘People don’t shine in the glow of your charisma, they shine in the light of your attention for them. They shine because you remind them that they matter.’


The ability to notice people is a trait that Madiba powerfully demonstrated. As I have read and heard the stories of those who were blessed to meet him, a common thread is that of noticing or ‘I see you.’ Years ago, I ran a workshop, where one of the participants excitedly shared his personal experience of ‘tea with Madiba.’ The story brought tears to the room and highlighted the big difference that attention can make, especially when it comes to healing and reconciliation.


We need to give attention to build connection. Especially to those who are beyond our social sphere and status. These are the people that can teach us the most. And more than this, we need to notice what noticing does, and how the simple act of noticing unleashes potential. Building strong connections is the key to so solving much of our social and political challenges.


Whose life are you ensuring does not go unnoticed?


From The Founder Of Craigslist

Let’s close this with yet another profound quote. ‘Connecting people to heal the world over time, is the deepest spiritual principle you can have.’ I like that – sometimes I am the recipient of that healing, like the cut man in the boxing ring, and sometimes I am the giver of that healing, like the politician who made it his game, to notice. 


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