I attended my high school class reunion a few years ago. In the invitation was a questionnaire asking a few questions about our lives since high school. One of the questions they asked was “Who was your most influential teacher from your school years?”
When I got to the reunion, there was a little pamphlet that had a profile of each person and their answers to the survey. I saw that most of my former classmates, like me, had chosen one of our high school teachers. I chose my history teacher Mr. Sutter. He was instrumental in teaching me critical thinking and to stand up for my beliefs regardless of their popularity.
Other former classmates chose their art teacher or another high school teacher that had made a difference in their lives.
My classmate Dianne took a different approach. She selected Mrs. Hlackey (pronounced lack-ee), our first grade teacher. She figured that since Mrs. Hlackey taught her how to read, that she was the most influential.
That really made me think. Few, if any of our later teachers could have taught us anything if we hadn’t learned how to read in first grade. It was a basic fundamental.
In 1988, Robert Fulghum published the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. It is a wonderfully simple collection of essays about his observations of life. The essay that the book’s title is based on discusses the fact that the things he learned in kindergarten are the most important aspects he practices in life. Things like “Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them.”
It made me realize that the real secret to success is very basic. We went on to high school and learned more advanced concepts. Many of us went on to college. Some people got advanced degrees. We learned trigonometry and calculus; finance and statistics; French and Latin. But none of those things are what makes us successful.
It all comes down to how you treat people.
If you treat people with respect, listen to what they have to say, and play fairly, you increase your chances of success exponentially. We all know the jerk who trampled over everyone on her way up and made it to CEO. We know the multi-billionaire that cheated people and used unethical practices to make his fortune. I wouldn’t consider them successful any more than I would consider a murderous dictator successful.
None of those people shared their success. They hoarded it. Imagine how successful we would be if we treated people well enough to share our success.
How do you treat direct reports?
As a leader, do you treat your direct reports like “underlings?” When things go wrong, do you blame and berate them? Do you constantly remind them that you’re the boss, which of course implies that you are always right?
Alternatively, you can treat them with respect. When they make a mistake, help them improve. When they struggle, remove obstacles. When the team succeeds, praise them instead of claiming the glory.
Related post: Why Your Legacy Matters
How do you treat peers?
When attending meetings with your peers, do you consistently disrespect their time by showing up late? Do you do things to make them look bad in order for you to look good?
Instead, you could respect them and their time by being timely. Help them solve problems. Make them look good. Strive to make the entire organization successful. Your coworkers will enjoy greater success. And so will you.
How do you treat your superiors?
When you report status to your superiors, do you hide issues hoping they will get fixed before the boss finds out? Do you badmouth your superior when you disagree with her? Do you give lip service to his orders and do the opposite behind his back because you think his idea is stupid?
It is possible to respectfully disagree with your superior. He may shoot your idea down. If you have good ideas, he will eventually see that. If he refuses to see it, you can respectfully move on.
You can provide him with visibility to what you are doing and how your status is progressing. If things go wrong, he needs to know as soon as possible in order to plan the rest of the projects he is responsible for.
For more information, check out Career Management for Mentors
How do you treat your customers?
Are you in business just to make money? Do you care whether your customer gets value back for the money they pay to you?
If you treat the customer with respect and take an interest in their needs, you can help them to be successful. If you provide valuable products or services to them, they will continue coming back to you for more business.
If you make the customer’s priorities your priorities, you will both end up being successful.
How do you treat your significant other?
Do you find fault with everything your mate does? Do you shut down when he or she wants to talk about issues? Do you let them do the majority of tasks around the house while you focus on your priorities?
If you share the responsibility of work around the house and raising the kids, you allow your mate more time to be successful. If you listen to his or her problems with empathy it eases their problems and helps them either solve the problems or to deal with them better.
When you treat your relationship like a partnership, you both end up being happier and more successful.
How do you treat yourself?
When you treat others with disrespect, it’s a loud message that you don’t respect yourself. When the only way you can think of to be successful is to tear others down to make yourself look better, it’s a sign that you don’t have faith in yourself to succeed.
Related post: Career advancement is not a zero sum game
A better approach is to help others to succeed. Whether it is your direct reports, your peers, your boss, your customers, or your spouse; treat them with respect. Help them succeed. Go out of your way to make them look good.
As a result, they will be more successful. And so will you. In more measurable ways than you ever imagined.
How do you treat the rest of the world?
I welcome your questions and comments.