It’s Nice to be Successful, and to be Successful be Nice

To be successful, be “nice.” At least, that’s what I’ve found while interviewing many of the world’s most successful people. In my book, there are many examples of how the big names, like Quincy Jones and Martha Stewart, were very nice to me. Yes, even Martha. It’s almost like; the bigger the name, the nicer the person – and it happened again recently.

I was honored to be the only other business speaker chosen by the largest bank in Norway to give a talk along with Richard Branson, at a private VIP event for top CEOs and highest-level government ministers. I was staying in a nice, small boutique hotel in Oslo, and the night before the event I was on my way down to the lobby, in the tiny elevator, when the door opened at another floor. Thinking it was the lobby, I started to rush out – and bumped face-to-face into Richard Branson.

Stepping back, startled, I blurted out “Oh…Hi!” Also surprised, he repeated “Oh, hi!” and laughed. We chatted a bit, I thanked him for the interview he had given me a couple of years ago, and then I said, “I’ll be the speaker before you at the bank event tomorrow.” Now, with the thousands of people he encounters, I’m sure he didn’t remember me, but he quickly replied, “Well, if I’m speaking after you, I hope I don’t disappoint the audience.” I searched for a hint of irony or humor in his face, but there was none. He was very sincere.

I replied, “You’re very kind, but people are coming to hear you, not me,” and as we said goodbye, I suggested that, since we’re both named Richard, the event should have been called, “Two Dicks Speak.” He laughed, and as he was whisked away to a TV interview, I thought about his comment and how it was another example of a big name being “nice.” Are they nice all the time? Probably not. They’re human. But, being nice is all about serving others. And “Serve” is one of the eight traits that lead to their extraordinary success.

When the world's eyes were on Obama he didn't say "I"

Barack Obama’s inauguration speech was a call to action, moving, and inspiring. It’s interesting that Obama used the word “I” only three times in his 20-minute speech. His entire talk was about others and the country, not about him – even though this was the biggest moment of his life.

In contrast, there was a man and woman sitting next to me in a coffee shop, talking loudly about being unemployed and looking for work. I timed them with a stopwatch and over the course of ten minutes the man said “I” 64 times and the woman said “I” 51 times. Extrapolate that out to 20 minutes and here’s the score:

Number of times person said “I” in 20 minutes:
           Barack Obama               3
           Unemployed man       128
           Unemployed woman   102

At no point did the unemployed man and woman express any interest in anybody else. They were only out for themselves, which is likely one of the reasons they were out of work. On the other hand, when I interview successful people, they rarely say “I” and it’s often difficult to get them to talk about themselves. They seem very outward-oriented, they serve others, and they would rather chat about their passion, project, or other people they admire, than yak on about themselves.

It all comes down to the seventh success principle – SERVE. Successful people serve others something of value, and Obama is no exception. We sense that he really is out to serve others, not just himself, and that principle is one of the big reasons he was standing up there taking the oath yesterday, rather than one of the other presidential candidates. In his speech Obama talked about people who “embody the spirit of SERVICE; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves.” He also said “it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.” Sometimes, what is not said is more important than what is said, and by not saying “I”, Obama said a lot.