We are who we are partly because of who we associate with.  Perhaps you remember your parents cautioning you to choose your friends wisely. Perhaps you are a parent who understands this and has given similar advice to your own children.  Even the contemporary business literature recommends that as adults we are aware of whom we choose to associate.  In her book Executive Presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett (2014) emphasizes how connections are fostered through eye contact, ‘commanding a room’ and ‘right-sizing your reputation’.  To deepen gravitas, the chief component of executive presence, she suggests “living intentionally, guided by a set of values… surround[ing] yourself with people who are better than you… [and] empower[ing] others’ presence to build your own” (p. 40-41).  Our interconnectedness and relationships incrementally construct a living, learning, self-organizing group or organization (Wheatley, p. 226-240).  Adult educators are encouraged to prioritize collaboration, belonging and community.

Who we associate with impacts our values and our values have the potential to impact those with whom we associate. Being reliable, consistently following through on commitments is a foundational value that impacts and is impacted by the web of relationships we encounter in our work and life generally. Lytkina Botelho et al. (2017) did a ten-year study that identified specific attributes of high-performing CEOs.  I would suggest that one of the attributes in particular can also describe high-performing adult educators and learners, that is, ‘delivering reliably’ (p. 10): “The ability to reliably produce results was possibly the most powerful of the four essential CEO behaviors.” (I encourage you to read the article to learn more about the other essential behaviors for CEO success: deciding with speed and conviction, engaging for impact and adapting proactively.). Consider how your values are impacted by your associates and how your values impact others.  Wheatley emphasizes the power of this network: “people adopt the mores of a culture, even those that contradict their personal values. … The culture is in control, and most people unconsciously adapt” (p. 229).  She encourages us to be conscious in our rebellion and reclaim life-affirming identities by being “fully engaged, carefully observing what’s going on as we do our work, learning from experience, applying those learnings, adapting, changing” (p. 231).

How might you foster life-affirming identities in your particular learning environment?



Hewlett, S. (2014). Executive Presence. New York: HarperCollins.

Lytkina Botelho, E. Rosenkoetter Powell, K, Kincaid, S. and Wang D. (May-June 2017).  What Sets Successful CEOs Apart. Harvard Business Review.

Wheatley, M. (2017).  Who do we Choose to Be: Facing reality, claiming leadership, restoring sanity. Oakland, CA.  Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.