The Underrated Power of Altruism in Business
Are we really there for each other? In several past Strategic Momentum Podcast episodes, kindness, humility, and altruism have been recurring motifs in my interviews with business leaders as they’ve given advice for driving business momentum.
In their own ways, the interviewees stressed the importance of doing good and paying it forward, not just as a mission-driven organization, but on an individual basis as an employee, colleague, or supervisor.
But we all know the importance of altruism. So why are these business leaders presenting it as a “secret” to success?
Unfortunately, altruism in business really isn’t as common as we’d like.
The problem: A Focus on “Me” vs. “We”
No matter how mission and purpose-driven companies are, the business of business will always be cutthroat. To survive, you have to be strategic in who you work with and where you go. And that can result in behavior that is completely counter to the notion of assisting and supporting others to create a mutual benefit.
Take networking, for example. Podcast guest John Newtson, co-creator of a business development conference, the Financial Marketing Summit, points out that networking is one of the most self-centered activities for business people today.
“People show up. They're super me-focused. And they are just like, I have to get this deal done. I have to find this deal.’ And so, every conversation they have, they say, ‘Hey, how are you?’, and they start pitching you. And nobody likes that, and it comes off poorly...You can't just show up out of the blue with a need and demand that people fulfill it for you.” (Listen to John’s episode here).
This self-interest has led to altruism falling down the ranks in priority.
Additionally, as Millennials continue to make up a higher proportion of the workforce, we see a greater shift towards the inward focus. Millennials by nature prioritize independence and individual achievement: “Millennials want to own a project, run with it, and make a real, measurable difference,” writes the Muse. And they “desperately want to get feedback (OK, also praise), along the way for motivation—and so [they] can integrate that feedback into the final product.”
But why are we, as an ecosystem, accepting selfishness instead of confronting it?
The Challenge: Fear, Misconceptions and a Rigid Corporate Culture.
Competition and pressure breed fear and insecurity. When a corporate culture isn’t ‘we-centric’ and the behaviors and actions of those around you are about protecting oneself, it’s easy to understand why people become inwardly focused.
This lookout-for-oneself mentality can impact business leaders of all ages and ranks. And the emotions stemming from this mindset trigger gut responses and actions like bullying, over- criticizing and micromanaging. On top of this, there’s the misconception that empowering others takes power away from the individual.
Podcast guest Beth Freedman, Managing Director of Gyro, UK, considers how employees often feel less valued when others receive attention. “It really sets you up for failure when you get to a point where that praise has to be directed to someone else and you're struggling to feel valued, and realize that your success is as much about this person who reports to you.” (Listen to Beth’s interview here.)
The need for constant validation to alleviate fear and insecurity has become so commonplace that we accept the absence of altruism in its wake. With underlying negative emotions driving this “me” focus, it takes a deep penetration of the psyche to break through.
The Solution: Shift in Mindset, and Emphasis on Execution.
The lesson people must understand is this:
Kindness and altruism lead to greater upward mobility and gratification than selfishness does.
We’ve heard powerful advice from numerous podcast guests resounding this idea:
“The more we can make each other successful, the more you know it's going to come back and drive success for ourselves as well.” (John Keeling, Ep. 25)
“In your professional life, it's treating the people around you in that generous way...You never know who can be a mentor to you. Who can who can potentially make that make that connection.” (Dan Yu, Ep. 23)
“The lessons are super simple. How do you make somebody feel respected? And always imagine it was you...Once you do it as a regular basis, it becomes what I call a social habit.” (Dr. Phil Zimbardo, Ep. 18 - He adds that by promoting the talents of the people in your organization, it empowers them, and they work harder.)
“If you really take responsibility for other people's success, like the things that come out of that are so huge...That always ends up with new friendships, new relationships, and new opportunities because every person you meet is really a doorway to like this whole sea of opportunities that you wouldn't access otherwise.” (John Newtson, Ep. 30)
“If you're smart and you've got enough humility to have to admit, especially at a senior level that you don't know what you don't know, and you work hard, you can probably learn almost anything.” (Beth Freedman, Ep. 19)
Our guest on Ep. 28 and host of The Daily Helping podcast, Dr. Richard Shuster, explains how we should always be giving, as biologically we get as much reward out of giving as we do receiving. (Listen to Dr. Shuster’s episode here).
He reveals when you do something kind for someone else, the reward center of your brain lights up and you receive oxytocin, the love hormone. When this hormone is released in your blood, it lessens levels of stress and anxiety and elevates one's mood while promoting trusting feelings towards the recipient.
Simply put, performing a good deed makes us feel good and more connected with the person we’re helping. We help ourselves by helping others. We create a mutual benefit.
Set against a workforce that is hyperfocused on pursuing their “purpose,” altruism is a key ingredient to reaching that goal. As Dr. Shuster dictates, “When you get at what you're passionate about and find something that helps others, it really opens a degree of fulfillment that most people haven't experienced.”
He sums up the phenomenon with a simple maxim - he happiest people are those who help others.
As a workforce, it’s important to look at ourselves and question if what we’re doing is truly contributing to those around us. Start with a simple resolution to do one good deed each day, and you may find your mood and productivity improve, your ability to learn expedite, and your career and business to propel forward.