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GREAT LEADERS

The First (and Most Important) Rule of Success

It's a bit like having a secret weapon--but only when you do it the right way and for the right reasons.
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A standard image of the entrepreneur is the type-A personality in a body fueled by equal parts adrenaline, caffeine, and ambition. He or she is the go-getter who's trying to get ahead. The stereotype is not without a reason. However, it can blind you to an approach that can be more effective: being helpful.

At The Atlantic, Adam Grant wrote about how "givers" in business could enjoy personal career productivity in the long run, even if it seemed that they lost something in the short term. There are three reasons why a giving nature can result in success.

  • Givers create stronger relationships with others, which helps in sales, marketing, making deals, and attracting customers.
  • Helping others creates motivation and provides the energy "to work harder, longer, and smarter."
  • When you volunteer to help, you learn new skills that build your professional strengths and knowledge.

All true. The people I've known in business who were absolutely best at what they did were those willing to help others achieve. Are there people who manage to get ahead by taking advantage of others? Certainly. The problem they have, though, is that when things get tough, there's rarely anyone willing to give them some help, and they haven't necessarily learned the skills they need to solve the problems themselves.

Giving is a characteristic that you can develop and learn to better employ for the sakes of others and of yourself, whether you're an employee or the boss. Here are three ways to do it:

Know the people (and the jobs they do) at your company's lowest level.

There is nothing demeaning about being able to do the lowliest jobs in a company. If you're the boss and someone leaves, what are you going to do? Complain on social media or roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done? People who don't understand how all the parts of a business run don't know how to manage because they don't really know what has to happen for the company to run. If you're the boss, you don't necessarily have to help the janitor sweep the floors, but you do need to take an interest in that job and person and see how you can help make their experiences better and more successful.

Spread the wealth without asking "Where's mine?"

Come to being helpful with a pure heart. The minute it becomes a quid pro quo, you've lost most of the benefits because you no longer have the right relationship to what you are doing. Instead of learning and building your abilities and understanding, you're distracted by looking for your reward and have missed what you could have received.

Everyone else goes first.

I can remember years ago running a small business. Money was tight, so when it came in, employees got paid first, as did vendors. I got what was left over. That's how a business should be. You own the company and so you get the ultimate rewards and risks. Similarly, you have your job to do as boss, but other than that, everyone else comes before your comforts and preferences. That means employees, customers, business partners, and vendors. Make sure they are set and you'll find all that is paid back to you multiple times. I don't know why it works; I've just seen that it does. Maybe it's because you'll never have made an army of resentful people all waiting to see you fall.

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: Mar 19, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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