You’ll Succeed Most When Others Want You to

In November 1974, not long after I joined the real estate development firm Trammell Crow Company, Fortune magazine ran a profile of company founder Trammell Crow. Entitled Trammell Crow Succeeds Because You Want Him To,” the article, by author Wyndham Robertson, captured Crow’s uncanny gift for recruiting people to root for his success. Seven years later, I saw firsthand one of the ways he did this when he launched Wyndham Hotels.

Trammell was a pioneer in the real estate industry, and during my almost two decades working at Crow, several people told me that they were the one who made Trammell his first loan. People felt invested in his success because he shared it with them. He gave others credit. He actively looked for small ways to acknowledge those with whom he worked.

One time I made an off-hand remark about a watch he was wearing. The following Monday when I arrived in the office, there was a box with a new watch on my desk – no note. There was no question in my mind who’d gone out of his way to make the unexpected gift.

When it came to hiring, Trammell similarly put a priority on human interactions. He used to say that brains and heart were baseline requirements, but that new hires had to be people you’d “want to go out and have a beer with.” Today, the entire real estate industry is filled with former Crow partners selected by Trammell for their people skills.

Trammell figured out that there’s genius in emotional intelligence, just as there is with intellectual intelligence. People with high EQs not only relate to others, but they have a situational awareness and a sense of priorities that are hard to teach.

After years of searching out this type of person for business leadership roles, I’ve concluded that they share several common traits.

  1. They like team sports. Those with overwhelming personal agendas often drown others out, don’t listen well, see everything through a personal lens and are combative to a fault. While they may be great individual performers, they can destroy a team and they rarely have a big cheering section of their own.
  2. They’re quietly self-confident. The brashest people I know are generally insecure. It’s often the quieter ones who run deep and are truly unafraid when they’re under stress. So don’t confuse outward confidence with inner strength – they can be inversely proportional. When the chips are down, it’s often the reserved, stable personalities that people want to follow.
  3. They take the long view. Everyone is self-interested – this is to be expected. However, those who make good leaders, good partners and solid contributors can discern second- and third-order consequences. They have the ability to “see around corners,” and they anticipate the long-run and the all-things-considered wisdom of the options before them. They also make decisions with an enlightened self-interest that takes into account others’ perspectives.
  4. They are kind. This is something I saw in Trammell, but that I really learned from my mother, who always said that it costs nothing to say a kind word and to lift others’ spirits. Going back to Trammell, I recall him skipping out of an awards banquet that he was attending when one of guests at his table suffered an offense. Rather than staying for the festivities, Trammell took the offended party out to a private dinner.
  5. They don’t look for a quid pro quo. The people who others wish to see succeed often do things without any anticipation of reward and without keeping a scorecard. The trick is to find those who love to win, but who have the emotional intelligence to want others to win, too.

Those who are short-term selfish, who make getting ahead the top priority, will find that their behavior is likely counterproductive. While people may not always remember or repay good deeds, they nearly always remember deeds that hurt them, and will often look for opportunities to repay in kind. Those who make such behavior a habit will find themselves with empty cheering sections, and perhaps no teammates either.

Motivational speaker and sales wizard Harry “Zig” Ziglar claimed, “You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.” The trick to this often boils down to how you order these priorities. If you can make helping others succeed a top priority, you’ll find it’s sometimes repaid. But you’ll also find that more often than not, it isn’t – and you can’t let that make a difference.

The trick is not to change your course when the favor isn’t returned. If you can live your life in such a way, you will find that many wonderful fans, friends and teammates will quietly want you to succeed.

By Joel Peterson