LISTEN NOW: Running Stuff, a Peterson Partners podcast
By Joel Peterson / in: From the Founder

Making Friends at Work Is the Key to Successful Leadership

As I originally published in Inc.:

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”

— Harry “Zig” Ziglar, motivational speaker and sales guru

I’ve followed that nugget of wisdom for almost as long as I’ve been working, and I credit a lot of its impact to the eponymous founder of the Trammell Crow Company, the real estatedevelopment firm where I worked early in my career.

I recall back in 1974, shortly after I joined the company, Fortune magazine profiled our founder in an article titled, “Trammell Crow Succeeds Because You Want Him To,” which captured the stories of many people who cheered Crow on to success after success.

It was well known in the industry even then, that Trammell always looked to acknowledge those with whom he worked. I remember one time I commented on a watch he was wearing. The next week, when I returned to my office, I found a new watch identical to it in a box on my desk. No note was attached, but I knew who sent the surprise gift.

I wasn’t alone. Over my 20-plus years at the company, I met financiers and bankers who told me that they were the ones who gave Trammell, a pioneer in commercial real estate, his start with his first loan. These lenders all felt that they were part of his success because he shared it with people and credited them.

This attitude extended to hiring as well. Trammell prioritized human interactions, people skills, situational awareness and emotional intelligence (EQ) in everyone he worked with. Smarts and passion were a given in new hires, but they also had to be the kind of person with whom you’d want to have a beer. They couldn’t be selfish, short-term thinkers, or make their own goals the priority.

The trick, he said, was to find those who have high EQ and want others as well as themselves to win.

I’ve spent a lot of my career looking for these high EQ people for leadership positions and found that they often have the following five traits:

  • They’re team players. They don’t have personal agendas that overwhelm others needs. They listen. They don’t view the world only through their own lenses or are overly combative. Unfortunately, even though star solo performers can often do great work on their own, they can also quickly dismantle a team if you’re not careful.
  • They’re secure and confident. Brashness usually comes from insecurity. The quiet ones, those who are reserved, stable people, are most often unafraid even under stress. They’re the kinds of leaders people will be willing to follow anywhere.
  • They’re visionary. They take the long view. They can “see around corners,” and they anticipate the long-run, second-, and third-order consequences of every action. They also understand the all-things-considered wisdom of reviewing all of the options before them in any given situation.
  • They’re nice. They’re kind and thoughtful on a personal level. This behavior is something I saw firsthand in Trammell, but it is something that I truly learned from my mother, who always said that it costs nothing to say a kind word and to lift others’ spirits.
  • They’re selfless. They don’t keep score. They do things without any expectation of reward. Those that make helping others succeed a priority often find that it is sometimes repaid. They also know not to change course when the favor isn’t returned. If you can do that, you’ll find legions of fans, friends and teammates who will quietly root for your success.

Conceptually, all of these people-pleasing principles are almost circular in their logic. You’ll want everyone to like you, so that they’ll want you to succeed.

But it’s not that simple.

It’s really about respect. If a tension exists between being respected and being loved, my suggestion is always to choose respect. Eventually, you’ll be loved if you’re respected. But if you’re only loved, respect may not follow.

Remember, too, life is long; it is not a sprint, but is instead an ultra-marathon. You’ll run into the same people over and over, again and again. Make sure they have great memories of you, as a colleague or leader.

They’ll ultimately remember that you were gracious, that you helped them out when they were under pressure, and that you offered a good word on their behalf.

By Joel Peterson