Throughout my career, I have learned that it is easy to take my talented, kind, intuitive, courageous and/or loyal colleagues for granted. Hindsight is 20/20, and I hope I am never that professionally blind, but I am human and it could happen.
When you are blessed to have colleagues as described above, and I hope you have been, when they leave, they leave a void that is never filled, even if someone takes the job title they held.
In the past couple of weeks, I have had the great fortune of attending two retirement parties. One was for Lesa Dietrick, a woman I met as a “child” in the political world 20 years ago who is retiring after a career as a lobbyist, the last 36 years of which were spent at Ice Miller. The second was for Andy Dietrick, someone I met as a colleague when I was a slightly older “child” and we both worked in state government.
They will be my friends forever, and that is a story for another time, but what their retirement reminded me of is the importance and scarcity of friends/colleagues I refer to as “foxhole people.”
Lesa has worked with my wife, Lawren, almost a dozen years. Lawren credits Lesa’s leadership and mentorship for much of the success of their practice group at Ice Miller. Period, full stop. Lawren is Lawren because of Lesa. In a similar vein, Andy and I have worked on multiple projects over nearly two decades. His wisdom, kindness, humility and ability to find a pragmatic solution to challenges will influence how I approach projects for years to come. We have been on the same side of issues that were often controversial and heavily scrutinized, but the stress always seemed more manageable because I had a teammate like Andy.
Having never served in the armed services, I would never pretend I know what an actual foxhole is like. But using the term in a professional metaphor, I see it as being paired with someone who will voluntarily put themselves at risk to back your play.
Yes, I understand that depictions in “Forrest Gump” are fictional. While none of my foxhole people have ever had to sit up all night in the rain, back-to-back, keeping watch while the other sleeps (and vice versa), many have gone out of their way to provide professional support at critical times.
Foxhole people might not be your best friend, they might not be someone with whom you get to spend a lot of social time (life happens), but a foxhole person is someone who at some point you formed a professional bond with, and that bond does not go away even if your work together ends. It is not even a “friendship” thing; it is a character thing.
As I think through some of the foxhole people I have in my life, I realize a few of them might not even know I hold them in that esteem. It is difficult to thank a foxhole person, at least for me, because truly expressing my gratitude would cause my eyes to mist and my voice to crack. That is how important it is to me to know that, if the proverbial Bat Signal goes up, they will don their masks and prepare for battle.
Congratulations on your retirement, Andy and Lesa. Words cannot express my gratitude. And to Andrew, Tom, Marty, Matt, Joe, Andy, Jodi, Lauren and the other foxhole people I am privileged to have in my life, please know that I will sit in the mud with you anytime.•
Rateike is founder and owner of BAR Communications and served as director of cabinet communications for President Donald Trump. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more Forefront columns.