You or Me – Who’s on First?

Our LeadershipChat topic this week opens up a very interesting, even somewhat deep question – can we truly put others first?

We talk a lot about being customer-centric and focused on others – our conversations about business and networking often bring out these idealistic themes. But are they realistic? Or are we only talking about yet another form of hypocritical manipulation?

(admit it: you’ve wondered this with all the high-falutin’ talk about putting others first – right?)

Well, let’s talk about it, plainly and practically. Because this touches on business strategy, sociology, philosophy – and stark realism.

First, I will pull all my cards out on the table for everyone to see – I believe that every person is driven, primarily, by self-interest. Even our noblest, most other-reaching actions have, woven around them, tendrils of our hard-wired self-love. And, I’m perfectly OK with that. Because it’s reality. *

If you adopt a philosophy and approach of being customer-centric and/or placing the spotlight on others, you are doing so with the idea that in some way, and at some point, it will benefit you. That is actually the foundation stone of a free and capitalistic society. When pursuing our self-interest is made most fruitful by providing value to others, we have the basis of a healthy and productive community.

A lot – maybe all? – of what you do right now in the business realm would vanish if you were assured that you would not get paid for it. Your self-interest (which includes providing for your dependents) dictates that you plant, and sow, in order to reap a harvest. No need to argue it – you may as well argue with the necessity of breathing.

And there is nothing wrong with this self-interest! Really – it’s OK.

Here’s the point – we’ll take one of two approaches, mindsets which determine how our self-interest manifests itself:

  1. Short-term/Grasping/Scarcity
  2. Long-term/Cultivating/Abundance

Both, ultimately, are driven by self-interest. But the first appears very much to be selfish. And we recoil from it.

Enlightened leaders don’t have some magical capacity to become lily-white, angel-hearted, selfless dispensers of pure, unconditional, 100-proof sacrificial love. We must leave that for the divine. To be “Go-Givers” (as this week’s #LeadershipChat guest host Bob Burg puts it), we must suspend (so to speak) our instantaneous self-gratification in order to support the development and success of others. This, in turn, will lead to our success (and the success of others). Pursuing abundance, and the good of others, brings the most good – including to ourselves.

(please read the prep post of my co-host, Lisa Petrilli, who gives a nice outline of Bob Burg’s “Go-Giver” thinking).

Feel free to join us for this lively discussion on Tuesday, March 13th at 8 pm ET. This weekly Twitter gathering is for any and all aspiring leaders, globally – and, in your self-interest, you are bound to meet some very interesting and thoughtful people with whom you can build your network! (oh, and if you haven’t ever seen the classic Abbott and Costello skit about Who’s on First? – click the picture above!)

* some will dispute this rather stark description. I simply suggest that you meditate deeply on an almost universally-accepted maxim: Love your neighbor as yourself!


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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

5 Responses to You or Me – Who’s on First?

  1. fgryan says:

    We are self serving but we have a choice of only doing things that benefit us or creating “win/win” scenarios where our success drives the success of others. I like to think that I shoot for the second option in most cases.

    Great post! Thank you.

  2. Pingback: March Topics « Leadership Chat

  3. Bob Burg says:

    Hi Steve, thank you for the very kind mentions in your post. A couple of comments, if I may:

    #1 You wrote: “I believe that every person is driven, primarily, by self-interest.”
    I agree. Basically, we are driven by our own individual values (i.e. self-interest). So, for instance, if (Heaven-forbid) a young child was about to be hit by a bus and you could either save him (killing yourself) or not do anything at all (and he would die but you would be left unscathed) you would probably take the first option and save the youngster. And, THAT would be an act of self-interest because doing so is in alignment with the values and principles you hold dear. An extreme example? Yes. However, I believe it’s important that we truly understand what self-interest means. It’s more about one’s value system than it is instant gratification.
    #2 You wrote: Here’s the point – we’ll take one of two approaches, mindsets which determine how our self-interest manifests itself:
    I don’t think that cultivating abundance by putting other people’s interests first necessarily translates to long-term abundance *as opposed to* short term abundance. For example, in the selling process, if you focus only on your own interests (closing the sale and a commission check) the chances are excellent that the prospect will suspect this, be suspicious of you and not buy from you. On the other hand, if he/she can tell your focus is on them; on serving *their* interests, the chances of a sale are much better. So, put their interests first and your success is more likely to happen short-term than if you focused only on yourself.
    I think the big thing is that we – as individuals and a society – dissolve the “treacherous dichotomy” that somehow we are EITHER self-serving money-makers OR self-less paupers. The best way to successfully lead an organization or conduct business is to genuinely put other people’s interests first, and to genuinely desire to add value to others, while being willing and welcoming of the abundance you will receive as a result.

    Thank you again,


  4. Michael Turner says:

    What Bob said. Pure altruism doesn’t exist, but pure selfishness doesn’t either. People seem to be “conditional reciprocators.” People at their best are playing the conditional reciprocation game at master level — and enjoying it along the way.

    The results of the research chronicled above seem odd at first, but after a while, you see the real-life significance everywhere.

    In some cases the condition for reciprocation might be instantly implicit because it’s significantly kinship-altruistic (a special case of altruism with significant scientific support.) To take up Bob’s extreme hypothetical: clearly, if some gives his life to save someone’s child, the family of the saved child will feel a great debt to the family of the deceased rescuer — and one thing can lead to another. If your value system is in part the manifestation of some “selfish gene”, that gene isn’t going to care which body it happens to be expressed in.

    But that’s an extreme. Civilization tends away from such extremes — but toward what? It seems to evolve toward ever better exploitation of the advantages of reciprocal altruism.

  5. Bob Burg says:

    Michael, thank you for your comment. In my opinion, even more than the idea of neither one (“altruism” and “selfishness” as those terms are typically used) existing in a pure form is my belief that neither one *rules out* the other. One who values being of benefit to others doesn’t necessarily provide value to another person in business *just because* they think they will somehow be compensated down the line*. (though, I think it’s natural and totally fine or us to be aware of that possibility and even likelihood, and to embrace that). But, rather because it is in alignment with their personal value system. (And, in the example of saving the child, the parent’s gratitude has absolutely nothing to do with that choice.)

    It’s more the realization that giving (value) and receiving (value) are simply both natural aspects of the abundance process.

    Again, just my opinion based on my own experiences over the years. I’m sure I’m simplifying it but, then again, in many ways…I’m fairly simple. 🙂

    * Of course, there are also contexts in which the idea of providing value “in exchange for value” is quite appropriate such as a sales presentation or joint venture.

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