The Incredible, Reciprocal Dividends of Being Nice
Do you think that good guys always finish last? Not so fast. There’s plenty of evidence supporting the fact that kindness is more valuable than you think, especially in business. In fact, it can actually propel your success and produce even greater opportunities than you ever imagined. And guaranteed—you’re going to be a better, more fulfilled person because of it. Here are 5 examples of how kindness can help you kick ass in business.
1. Work in Good Faith, Beyond What’s Required
When I first met billionaire investor and LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman, the dust of the dot-com bust was just beginning to clear. He was in the early throes of angel investing when we got introduced through a mutual friend. My boutique PR agency beat out a slew of others competing to help launch a small startup he was backing. But the company never got off the ground. Although a rare occurrence, things came to an abrupt halt due to circumstances beyond all of our control.
I’d collected a non-fundable retainer for a portion of this work, dug in for weeks to prepare for a big launch, and had set aside significant time and resources to see it to fruition. When it all went sideways, everyone assumed (per the standard contract) that I’d pocket the remaining pre-paid fees and call it a day. But faced with the choice to exercise that non-fundable clause, I didn’t feel comfortable doing it. Ultimately, it just wasn’t in line with how I wanted to operate.
Instead, I offered to put the remaining money toward another project, since Reid had a growing portfolio of companies that might need my help. He soon told me about “this experiment” he was working on, and asked if I’d like to help launch it. It was a startup called LinkedIn. Needless to say, I spent the next four years working with a team who would build one of the most successful tech companies in history.
Had I not favored a lenient approach to client service, I might have missed out on one of the greatest opportunities of my entire career. Combining skill with a good faith willingness to go beyond what’s required can be a winning formula.
2. Help a Stranger on the Street
Lewis Howes, a lifestyle entrepreneur, former pro athlete and the New York Times best-selling author of The School of Greatness, has built his career on the philosophy of “give first, get later.” But while he knows that reciprocity is common in the name of networking, he says that often the most purely unselfish act is the one that yields the greatest reward.
This came to fruition when Lewis was walking down the street in Los Angeles one day and noticed a woman struggling to carry a huge box. At first, he didn't intend to stop, but then changed his mind and offered her a hand. The stranger turned out to be celebrity fitness trainer Simone de la Rue, who has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. She was moving supplies into her new West Coast studio, Body By Simone, just as Lewis happened to be passing by.
Afterward, they chatted for a bit, and Lewis told her about the podcast he’d started earlier that year. At the time, he was still learning how to book and interview newsworthy guests, so when Simone agreed to appear on his show, it was an enormous coup. She ended up giving a phenomenal interview, full of fascinating stories that people could relate to. In fact, the segment was so well received, it helped Lewis grow his audience faster than anticipated.
With a single random act of kindness, Lewis landed the perfect, high profile guest whom he’d never have met otherwise. As he points out, “I could never have imagined a more incredible outcome from simply helping out a stranger on the street.”
3. Be Professionally Generous for the Long-Haul
Elisa Camahort Page, BlogHer co-founder and conference program chair, knows that business success is often tied to making mutually beneficial connections. She believes it’s best to take an indirect, long-term view, where people shouldn’t expect every relationship to be equal on a “per transaction” basis.
“I think of it as a kindness mush pot,” Elisa says. “I just throw it all in there—giving people my perspective, making relevant introductions and helping out when I can. I just figure some day, a little may come back to me. It might be from different people, but definitely from somewhere.”
This was illustrated recently when Elisa shifted from a full-time focus on the company she started to consulting work with entrepreneurs and startup execs. She posted a notice to her network and was amazed by the response. So many people quickly messaged back to inquire about her service offerings and fees. Many of these people were not the same ones she’d helped in the past. But, after 12 years of entrepreneurship, and many acts of generosity to complement her talents, Elisa’s reputation preceded her. “My kindness mush pot seems full, now that I need some, and that's no accident,” she says.
It seems that the kindness you project in business (and life), generally comes back to you, and often from unexpected sources.
4. Pay it Forward
Jeff Clavier, founder and managing partner of SoftTech VC, is an advocate of the “pay it forward” approach, where he and his partners always try to help entrepreneurs, executives, and friends from the industry—without expecting anything in return. “I benefited greatly from the support of fellow investors when I started SoftTech 13 years ago, and always try to operate with similar principles,” he says.
Every year, Jeff and his team meet hundreds of entrepreneurs who are seeking funding, and end up investing in only a dozen or so. But, even though they have to say “no” roughly 99.5 percent of the time, they still build meaningful relationships, and find ways to add value or generate opportunities for their network of contacts. Whenever they can, they offer introductions, provide feedback and sometimes help pitch an entrepreneur’s product to a customer. Conversely, Jeff is always humbled when the entrepreneurs they’ve turned down, introduce them to companies they end up investing in, and sometimes multiple times.
Recently, SoftTech’s altruistic approach came full circle when the team lost a deal to another firm—something that happens a couple of times a year. Although disappointed, Jeff’s partner Andy still tried to help with customer introductions. A couple of weeks later, that same company founder came back to SoftTech with a change of heart. Jeff’s firm ended up leading the round in a startup they are really excited about.
“Pay it forward,” Jeff says. “It helps the community, and pays back in more ways than you expect.”
5. Build A Career on Compassion
Millennial spokesperson and media personality Chelsea Krost learned very early in her career that compassion towards others has a tremendous impact.
While still in high school, Chelsea was already the producer and host of a radio talk show on WBZT Clear Channel called Teen Talk Live. One of her more memorable guests was Rwandan refugee Christine Uwauyezu, who shared her incredible story of survival.
Christine spoke about multitudes of young African women who do not have access to basic feminine hygiene products. As a result, they often miss school, fall behind and don’t graduate. Christine reminded Chelsea how lucky she was to be an American girl who never had to worry about something that so many of us take for granted.
Chelsea knew she had to do something to help. So she and her mother organized a mission trip to Africa, and after six months of hard work and persistence, they landed Kotex and Delta as sponsors. In Summer 2009, Chelsea and her family traveled to Nairobi, Kenya to hand deliver thousands of sanitary napkins to local girls and women in need.
Chelsea documented this auspicious journey and later produced a four part docu-series that aired on South FL CBS News. Not long after, U by Kotex tapped her to be their “millennial spokesperson,” where she served as a brand ambassador for the next five years. Chelsea became one of the first-ever millennial lifestyle experts, and to this day, continues to be sought-after by some of the most coveted brands. “The African women told me to seize every opportunity, work hard, and to always have compassion for others,” she says. Chelsea could never have envisioned that her altruistic mission would become such an amazing catalyst in her career.
So, if you’re feeling single-minded, and focused on your own agenda, you may want to pause for a moment and reconsider. Why not get out there and be kind? I’m certain you’ll experience—first hand—that the incredible, reciprocal dividends of being nice are nothing short of extraordinary.
Laurie Thornton is founder and agency chief of Radiate PR, a boutique communications firm that helps tech startups successfully catapult from idea to exit. She is also a supporter of No Kid Hungry whose mission is to end child hunger in the U.S.