Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is widely respected for a number of qualities. Patiently building a company with a juggernaut of a flywheel. Turning an internal initiative into Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary that does over $17.4 billion in revenue. Knowing how to hire the right people. Making smart expansion decisions.

In short, for being incredibly smart. 

But, as Bezos learned on a road trip with his grandparents when he was 10 years old, intelligence alone won't make you successful. 

Here's the story Bezos told Princeton graduates

"My grandfather was driving. And my grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips, and I hated the smell.

"At that age, I'd take any excuse to make estimates and do minor arithmetic. I decided to do the math for my grandmother. I estimated the number of cigarettes per days, estimated the number of puffs per cigarette and so on. When I was satisfied that I'd come up with a reasonable number, I poked my head into the front of the car, tapped my grandmother on the shoulder, and proudly proclaimed, "At two minutes per puff, you've taken nine years off your life!"

"I have a vivid memory of what happened, and it was not what I expected. I expected to be applauded for my cleverness and arithmetic skills. Instead, my grandmother burst into tears. I sat in the backseat and did not know what to do. While my grandmother sat crying, my grandfather, who had been driving in silence, pulled over onto the shoulder of the highway. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door and waited for me to follow.

"My grandfather looked at me, and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said, 'Jeff, one day you'll understand that it's harder to be kind than clever.'

Think about bosses you respected. Think about leaders you admire. Think about people you like to be around.

They're probably smart. They're probably accomplished.

But that's not why you like to be around them -- and would like to be more like them.

What truly sets them apart?

They're kind. Even when being kind is hard. 

As Bezos said, "Cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice." You can work to be intelligent, but you can't choose to be intelligent.

You can choose to include rather than exclude. You can choose to build people up rather than tear them down.  You can give before you receive, knowing you may never receive. You can shift the spotlight to other people. You can listen more than you talk. 

You can choose to do something nice -- not because you're expected to, but simply because you can.

No matter how smart you are, you can always choose to be kind.

Starting today.

Published on: Sep 24, 2018
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.