Mackay: Unselfishness has a special place in business

  • Article by: HARVEY MACKAY
  • Updated: November 24, 2013 - 10:25 AM

Bill Bradley recently spoke to a group of Minnesota Timberwolves season-ticket holders. The topic wasn’t his stellar career, basketball strategy or memorable wins. Instead, he talked about unselfishness. After 40 years of traveling America as a Hall of Fame basketball player and a U.S. senator, the Rhodes scholar has a lot of stories to tell about the remarkable, unselfish accomplishments of people both famous and unknown. He features them during his weekly “American Voices” program on Sirius/XM Radio.

Bradley briefly talked about his two NBA championships with the New York Knicks and how unselfish his teams were. They wanted to be champions more than they wanted individual achievements.

That’s why I love team sports. Players learn not only the power of teamwork, but also how to be unselfish, regardless of their individual abilities.

Another basketball superstar, Michael Jordan, won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls. His personal accomplishments on the court give him bragging rights beyond compare. Yet he wrote in his book, “I Can’t Accept Not Trying”: “There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren’t willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

Businesses should operate the same way. Every organization has star performers whose skills and talents are evident. If they are smart, they have developed as their biggest asset the ability to work with others.

So many projects require teamwork in order to come to a successful conclusion. But watch what happens when one member of the team claims the victory. Morale goes in the tank. The next group effort becomes a competition. Communication is stifled. The results suffer for lack of a variety of ideas.

President Harry Truman summed it up so well: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

The example needs to come from the top. Management needs to send a clear message that every member of the organization is vital to the success of the group. Good leaders must demonstrate sincere unselfishness when celebrating achievements and share the credit and successes with the group.

We have marvelous examples of unselfishness throughout American history. Ask any military veteran about how loyalty and unselfishness were drilled into them throughout their training and service. They often had to depend on each other in dangerous situations. And while you’re at it, thank them for their service to our country.

Perhaps the most incredible example of unselfishness is the little check mark you might have on your driver’s license to be an organ donor. Blood donors also make my radar screen for sharing a precious gift with someone they will never know, but who will be forever grateful.

Unselfishness is all around us. We just need to follow the lead of those folks, and not be afraid to translate it to all areas of life.

There once were two brothers whose father had died and left them the family farm. One was married and had a large family to support. The other was single. The will designated that the two brothers would share everything equally.

One day the single brother said to himself, “It’s not right that we should share equally. I’m alone and my needs are simple.” So every night he took a sack of grain from his bin and secretly dumped it into his brother’s bin.

Meanwhile, the married brother said to himself, “It’s not right that we should share the produce and the farm’s profit equally. After all, I am married and I will have my wife and grown children to look after me in the years ahead. My brother has no one.” So each night he took a sack of grain and dumped it secretly into his single brother’s bin.

For years both men were puzzled as to why their personal supply of grain never dwindled. Then one dark night the two brothers bumped into each other and it suddenly dawned on them what had been happening.

Mackay’s Moral: You’ll never lose credibility if you share the credit.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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