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  • Writer's pictureMary Kay

Important or Nice

When I was a young girl, I remember a magnet that was stuck on my Aunt Amelia’s fridge that said “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”. I was roughly ten years old when I first read this message and I asked my aunt, what does that mean?”

My aunt went on to explain to me that in the world, there are individuals that hold high-power jobs. These are people that are in charge of companies - they supervise others, make important decisions, and they are responsible for hiring and firing all of the employees. They call the shots. She continued and said, “often times, these individuals, that find themselves in these high-powered positions, allow the job and their responsibilities to go straight to their heads. They thrive on being important. They hold their heads up really high and, often times, their ego gets in the way, and they can forget who they really are and where they came from in life, allowing their highfalutin job to cloud their behavior towards others.”

“If these important people could simply remember that being nice is more important than being important, the world would be a better place. After all, at the end of the day, no one really cares how important these people are, what titles they have, their responsibilities, how much money they earn, the car they drive, the house they live in, which zip code they live in, or the brand of the clothes on their back - none of that stuff really matters. It’s just right to be nice. Now that was one heck of a conversation with my aunt.

Over the years, I have thought a lot about that magnet, the meaning behind it, and the conversation that took place that day. It was a tremendous life’s lesson for me that I have carried for over forty years. As I eventually embarked on my own career climb, I mingled with those high- level individuals that my aunt referenced that day. I sat in boardrooms smack next to those people. I frequented the same executive dining rooms, attended the same high-powered lunches, and rubbed shoulders with them at happy hour. I even pitched their business. In many cases, these individuals became my clients and most importantly, some became my close friends. What I learned through this magnet and the mirrored journey is that some of these important’ people are VERY NICE and, unfortunately, some were not. Some conducted themselves just as my aunt explained, but many never allowed their heads to get larger than their hearts. It was those individuals that I grew to have the utmost respect for. From my point-of-view, it is nice and heart-led leaders who are truly the most successful, because their success is not solely measured on their seat at the table. Their success is measured by who they are as people.

There is a famous Warren Buffet quote that clearly supports this notion: “The only way to get love is to be lovable. It's very irritating if you have a lot of money. You'd like to think you could write a check: 'I'll buy a million dollars' worth of love.' But it doesn't work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.”

I was in a recent business engagement and the client interaction was quite disrespectful towards our team members. This person’s approach is often confrontational. Their style comes across as being harsh and rude towards others taking team members to task and taking issue from a superior strength, in an abrupt and demeaning way often making those around the table left feeling compromised and beaten.

I was so taken aback by this behavior, it actually tore my business etiquette approach to shreds and I felt the need to bring this behavior to this person’s attention. When this behavior continued to repeat itself, a decision was made to stop working with this client. We said good-bye and took a stance that we would no longer permit and experience this disrespectful and sharped-tongued approach. As business professionals we all deserve to be treated with respect – a warmer, kinder and professional approach to dialogue and engagement.

Over my tenure, I tried to treat others with kindness and lead with my heart.  Early on in my career, a seasoned professional, that I had the utmost respect for, said to me, “if you always lead with kindness first, in every thought and in every action, you will reap the benefits ten-fold.” She went on to say, “a spoon full of sugar goes a long way.”

When we hang our shingles, I’m hopeful we can all try and lead with our hearts and remember, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

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