Vital Friends, The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without

As I mentioned to John Richardson, Tom Rath took me by surprise with his book, Vital Friends. I’m not sure why I had underestimated it, for I’m a huge fan of the Gallup Organization and the research they’ve conducted in our workplaces, research which supports the strengths management revolution, and the mission to increase employee engagement.

I’d first learned about Gallup’s StrengthsFinder Q12 (twelve key dimensions that describe great workgroups) when I’d read their ground-breaking book First, Break All the Rules. I became an instant convert. The core concept of working on an employee’s strengths and innate talents is very much attuned with Managing with Aloha for Aloha is a value of authenticity and self-awareness. It was common sense to me that the goodness, and the very rightness, of our innate talents was perfectly aligned with the aloha spirit which resides in all of us ”“ also innately.

Improving employee engagement aligns wonderfully with the MWA values of Lōkahi, Kākou, and Kuleana ”“ just for starters.

“Key dimension number 10”
of the Q12 was that engaged employees would state, “I have a best friend at work.” Of all 12 StrengthsFinder indicators, I’d always thought this was the oddest one, and it was the one easy to overlook as I would study and apply the other eleven, things like “Knowing what’s expected of me,” “Doing what I do best,” and “My company’s mission and purpose.”

In Vital Friends, Tom Rath has finally explained the importance of this measurement for me like no list of impressive statistics could ever have done.

If you feel that your friendships have been taken for granted, or are neglected or minimized in any way whatsoever, it will be impossible for you to read (or listen to) Rath’s book without immediately wanting to be a better friend ”“ a vital friend. When you purchase the book or tape, you receive an access code to the Vital Friends website to help you get started, and you are encouraged to get your friends involved with you ”“ with Rath’s book, Gallup enters the world of group therapy outside the workplace too.

However true to form, the heart of this book takes aim at the workplace. It challenges the prevalent notion that friendships at work make things messy and complicated; there are just too many other benefits to ignore. You can even be friends with the boss!

As a workplace coach I am newly fascinated with this entire concept of what vitality in friendships can do for leadership teams in particular. I strongly suspect, that similar to what the StrengthsFinger Q12 and Now, Discover Your Strengths has done for managers in understanding how important it is to identify an employee’s strengths to manage them well, Vital Friends may be the Gallup ticket to helping foster better relationships within peer groups.

This book is a company facilitator’s dream come true if faced with a dysfunctional leadership team where knowing of each other’s strengths is not enough to soften the hard edges of armor worn in boardroom minefields. Management gets to be tougher, lonelier, and more inhuman the higher you climb the corporate ladder ”“ the partnerships of great friends like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, or Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are rare. Doing a group read of Vital Friends is definitely going on my peer-to-peer coaching list of suggestions for leadership teams who need each other more than they may realize.

In Now, Discover Your Strengths, co-authors Donald Clifton and Marcus Buckingham may have served managers best in labeling their 34 talent themes to help us identify strengths. Rath stays true to this proven Gallup formula with Vital Friends: He identifies 8 Vital Roles for us because “The research behind Vital Friends reveals that people have significantly better friendships if they can easily describe what each friend contributes to the relationship.” He calls these 8 Vital Roles builder, champion, collaborator, companion, connector, energizer, mind opener, and navigator, and he coaches us on how to be better in these roles ourselves too.

Read Vital Friends, The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without. I can’t imagine that you could do so and not become a better friend for others. Give yourself in friendship ”“ in vital friendship ”“ and love the person you become in the process.

Recently written for

Strengths Management Coaching with Marcus Buckingham

Heads up:
There are two related book reviews coming up this month within the Joyful Jubilant Learning A Love Affair with Books 2007. Mark your calendars:

Strengths Management is a Key Concept of Managing with Aloha. If you are interested in more, click through my Talking Story Strengths Management index ” lots to read, so grab a cup of joe!


  1. says

    Rosa, thanks for sharing this. My company had used the Gallup survey for several years and finally discarded it last year in favor of a home grown tool. (Long story there for another time.)
    I always found that one question about your best friend at work problematic and never got a satisfactory response from the implementation team. Having read Strength’s series of books, this may have been the missing piece to the puzzle.

  2. says

    I’d like to hear that story Steve, and we’re due for another Skype call anyway!
    The entire business story of Gallup is a case study in itself, and a lot of it came together for me at one point when I read Soar with your Strengths, the early book in which Donald Clifton cooked his ideas. (I mention it in the Recommended Reading at the back of MWA, and there’s a link in that listing in the blog’s right column) I wonder if Tom Rath is now their next Marcus Buckingham … pretty sure we can expect to hear much more from him.

  3. says

    Good post about strengths Rosa. I am just finishing my review of StrengthsFinder 2.0 and look forward to comments. I think we are in a strengths evolution or revolution and will see so much more on this for the remainder of this decade.
    We only have so much energy and time at work and home and not to maximize our investment in strengths seems to lessen the best we can bring to work and home.
    I think it is very important to acknowledge the contribution of Peter Drucker’s focus on strengths and Managing Oneself from 1999. Also I think Martin Seligman and his work in Authentic Happiness and a focus on strengths through Values in Action is very key.
    I appreciated Vital Friends as people are such a key in both fostering engagement and preventing burnout. So much of my strength is derived through relationships. Anything that helps us not take others for granted is a real key in my eyes.
    Looks to me like Tom and Marcus are running neck and neck and this kind of “healthy strengths competition” can only mean even better resources and focus on strengths.
    Be strong and carry on…

  4. says

    Aloha David,
    I’m eager to expand this conversation in the comments of your review too David; I picked up both the books that you and Blaine are reviewing, and am currently reading them in sweet anticipation of our unfolding virtual book club on these subjects!
    I knew of Peter Drucker’s writing, however thank you for making me more aware of the work done by Martin Seligman. Another book for my wishlist.
    A sharing of Hawaiian for you David; the name given to male children meaning “one who is strong” or has strength, is Ikaika (pronounced ee k+eye ka), and it seems to me that would be a good Ho‘ohana Community name for you! We are very much in agreement on the life wisdom inherent in working on one’s strengths.

  5. says

    The Canadian snow is beginning to melt in Winnipeg (almost sounds Hawaiian) so Ikaika is very okay with me!
    I recommend taking the VIA Signature Strength Inventory at By the way, it is free and you don’t need a secret code or to purchase a book. I often recommend this inventory as a first step to my clients or students who are willing to begin a walk on the strength path.
    My signature strengths are: humor and playfulness, curiosity, creativity and ingenuity, love of learning, and sense of purpose.
    I think it is just fabulous all the pathways to strengths. Another favorite of mine is the Reflected Best Self Exercise from Michigan’s Ross School of Business. I think the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship is doing a fabulous job.
    I am slight of build so often don’t see myself as being strong but I have a definite gentle tenacity that pervades my work.
    As Ikaika (always nice to get a new name at 52, makes me feel like a newborn) I am very honored to give the gift of my strength knowledge and focus to the Ho`ohana community.

  6. says

    Thanks for the pointer, Rosa. A while back I became of what I call “mythic characters” in my (unfolding) life story. Once I’d realized their importance to me, I was moved to try to involve them more. Sounds compatible…

  7. says

    Aloha Matthew, always good to have you stop by! Sounds very compatible … we humans are meant to age better in the company of others, don’t you think? Your generosity always shows through in the writing you do Matthew, so I’m sure your wishing to involve them more was very welcomed.

  8. says

    Embracing What I Learned From My Friends (This stuff is good!)

    I find I am thinking about friendship, and what it has done for me over the course of my life. Robert Hruzek was the catalyst. “What I have learned from friends” is the subject of his current writing project over