Saturday, January 12, 2008

Be the most useful person you know.

What follows is another passage from my upcoming book, Philanthropist in Chief:
Ten years ago or more, Jane shared a line from the Dale Carnegie course she was teaching:

“Be the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.”

Those nine words have helped to change my life. No one I’ve ever met would call me timid or unenthusiastic, and I’ve always been quite positive as well. But “the most…” that’s a challenge, and I love to rise to a challenge! Way back then, Jane and I printed this affirmation up and put it on our wall.

The problem for me was that I knew Jane: how was I ever going to be more positive and enthusiastic than she? Some days I think I’ve got her beat, others I know she still kicks my butt in this regard. Perhaps over all, I can claim to be one of the two most positive and enthusiastic people I know. I could do worse, I guess.

What does that have to do with my adventures in philanthropy? Well, maybe four or five years ago, when our first business was still in its infancy, I came up with another affirmation for myself based on Dale’s advice:

“Be the most useful person you know.”

As I said, I’m a dogged competitor, and this self-challenge is something I take quite seriously. It has paid off handsomely in business. The Coiné Companies wouldn’t be where they are today without that quote.

To steal my own story from my first book, Five-Star Customer Service, I once told a client who had a special request, “My job is to make your job easier.”

He stopped dead, looked at me sincerely, and said, “You know, Ted, you may be the one person in business today who truly means that.”

So when I came to Naples and we created Naples Social Action, I made being the most useful person I knew my first priority. I’m still hard at work on it, and I think it’s really serving us well in making NSA a success.

Here is the benefit of being useful: people rely on you to solve their problems. They come to you for advice. They count on you to have the answers, the introductions; to be a resource. People think of you first when they need something. You gradually become indispensable to those who know you. And your name comes to mind right away when someone else needs something, too. Buzz starts. Strangers reach out to you for help, referred by those who know you.

“Be a resource.”

In short, being useful makes you influential. And if you want to make change happen, you cannot be too influential.

I don’t have any hidden agenda up my sleeve, and I think most people - the ones who are themselves honest - know that. I get off – I really, really find great pleasure – in people thanking me for all we’re doing to help their organization and the community. At first it embarrassed me, but I've come to appreciate it.

Just last night, I was at a public charity event. I was sitting with some friends before the show started, and a number of stars in the giving community, people whom I really, deeply admire, came up to me to thank me for the work we're doing. I got about eight days’ worth of motivation from that experience.

I like being useful for its own sake, because it makes me feel wonderful. Why else go into philanthropy?

But I’m also sowing good will for the time that I’m ready to cash it in, and I’m not afraid to share that with the public. I am helping others first, which is where you should start. But when it comes time for me to look for donors for $100 laptops for the kids in Immokalee, I’m going to ask my friends to introduce me to their friends, the donors who can make this ambitious scheme possible. If we end up starting a magazine to augment our newsletter, we’ll need capital. Again, I’ll draw on some of this good will. And I'm fine with that, because I think at this point we've earned it. We're helping others first.

Even if I'm just influencing the thoughts and actions of others, this policy of being useful will help. For instance, several of us are passionate about convincing folks that we need to invest more per child in education, and that this is one major issue they should weigh when choosing a political candidate. I want that kind of influence, because I believe – no, I am certain – that I will use this influence for Good.

No act that we take occurs in a bubble. Helping others helps you, be it in spiritual or personal fulfillment, working off bad karma, or something more material. Doing the right thing pays – it’s the underlying lesson of everything I teach executives about how they should do business.

Be the most useful person you know. That is my own personal goal. Still, I'd be honored if my readers took this up themselves and gave me a run for my money.