September 29, 2023

Why You Need Road Dogs and How to Cultivate Them

No matter who we are, where we go, what we do, or how often we get knocked down, we position ourselves for success if we travel down the road of life together.

Success is a journey that’s never traveled alone. Even if you think you got there by yourself, you and I know it’s never that simple. You need road dogs surrounding you. 

I define road dogs as your truth tellers who inspire you, challenge you, reinforce your own values, and help you see your blind spots. They often know you better than you know yourself. 

I’m blessed to have many different road dogs in my life who have enriched my journey. My three brothers were my first road dogs, and my wife is obviously a fierce road dog. They were soon followed by lifelong friends from school and, later, incredible colleagues who have either supported my career or welcomed my sponsorship on their own paths.

No matter who we are, where we go, what we do, or how often we get knocked down, we position ourselves for success if we travel down the road of life together. 

You might be asking, “What makes a good road dog?”

Here are five characteristics they embody

  1. They know you as well as you know yourself, sometimes better.
  2. They are transparent, so you know who they really are, how they feel, and what they think. (This means they tell you what you need to hear, not just what you want to hear.)
  3. They care about you unconditionally, so their tough love doesn’t come with judgments.
  4. You seldom have to ask each other for favors because you each respond to the other’s needs before a request can be made.
  5. They always have your back. 

Naturally, your next question might be, “How do I go about attracting people who might be my next road dog, and what should I do to nurture those relationships? What about breakups?”

How do you attract and choose road dogs? 

The short answer to this question is by living your values. For instance, when I met one of my colleagues, Rich Jennings, for the first time, we learned that we had very similar upbringings and strong mother figures in our lives. 

We also exhibited the same work ethic and loved our early mornings. In fact, we now laugh about one of the first crack-of-dawn emails I sent only to get an immediate response! I emailed, “What are you doing up so early?” He quipped, “What are you doing up so early?”

When you’re living your values, it’s easier to attract those kindred spirits because you’re comfortable in your own skin and outwardly demonstrating what’s important to you. Similarly, it’s easier to identify potential road dogs this way when you’re building your team.

How do you nurture road dogs? 

Did you notice I said “comfortable in your own skin” above? To nurture road-dog relationships, you have to get comfortable with vulnerability. When discussing our friendship, Rich and I both agreed that allowing ourselves to be vocal about our personal lives took time but that it was an essential part of genuinely connecting with others. We’re all on a different timeline with our readiness, but age and experience help. 

If you’re the leader in a work setting, it’s imperative that you set the tone. “You have to get past that initial hesitation and let your guard down,” said Rich. He added that when he once shared his story, he was inspired that his team responded with similar vulnerability. It no doubt made them stronger as a unit and better prepared for future alliances.

What about breakups? 

For every relationship, there is a season. There are those who stand the test of time, and there’s a reason for that; they continue to serve a purpose in your life. In addition to seasons of engagement, there may also be natural gaps or lack of reciprocity, and that’s okay. 

Too often, we naively think that every person whose company we enjoy should be a constant lifelong friend who gives back as much as we invest. Life is too messy for that perfectly balanced equation. There are people I spend more time with during certain seasons, and then we drift apart for a while. There’s no need for breakups; I’m always open to pausing or resuming a connection.

Keep in mind that when we make deposits in other people, they don’t always result in road-dog relationships. The good news is that we don’t have to end up with road-dog relationships to reap the benefits of our deposits. If we enrich the lives of others, it will always enrich our lives as well. 

Live your why,


P.S. Looking for a deeper dive into this topic or into my experiences with road dogs? Check out my new book, Uncompromising: How Living Your Why Leads to an Impactful Life and a Lasting Legacy

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