By- Fran Tarkenton
Looking over my years in football and business, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. The most successful coaches and the best business owners and entrepreneurs had a lot of common traits. Some of them are things you might expect, like putting in hard work. But one that might surprise some people is that all of the great leaders I’ve been around were, at heart, givers.
What does that mean? For the past year or so, I’ve been closely following the work of Adam Grant, a professor at the Wharton School of Business who specializes in organizational psychology. His research in particular has looked at the success of people he classifies as “givers”—people who give to others without the expectation of immediate gain. They are contrasted with “takers,” who try to “win” in every exchange, and “matchers” who try to give to an equal extent to what they get. To summarize parts of what he found, people who fall into the Giver category have a greater chance of achieving the highest levels of success, contrary to the expectations of those who think only the most selfish push and claw their way to the top.
After reading about his research, I was fascinated. I reached out to him (and in true giver fashion, he responded right away!) and we talked first over the phone, and then he even came by our offices when he was in Atlanta. Talking with him got me thinking about my coaches, mentors, and partners. I realized that all of the best coaches and business people I’d been around had been givers—even the ones you might not expect at first. A lot of people think of Vince Lombardi for the “Winning is the only thing” mentality, but when I was around him at Pro Bowls, he was incredibly giving of his time and knowledge, freely sharing with me (a competitor!) about football and quarterbacking. Bud Grant, my coach in Minnesota, was a great giver. My mentor Sam Walton was a giver. And my mission in life and business is to be a giver.
I think this emphasis on giving is lost in many businesses and with many people. The focus on the bottom line and money as the measure of success is shortsighted, however. The mission of a business, I believe, is to help people—it’s not to make money. And in life, your mission should be to help people in whatever ways you can. That is a sustainable mission.
These are some of the oldest lessons in the world; putting others first before yourself is something we all learned as children. But do we really live it? Every day? Find ways to give to others, to provide value to people. When we do that, it’s amazing what we can achieve.