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Greater Than Yourself
Published by DoubleDay
Friday night I had plans to go to a friend’s rooftop BBQ and potentially a late night poker game. I bailed on both and spent the night on the couch reading Steve Farber’s latest masterpiece Greater Than Yourself. Contrary to my original plans, Farber’s characters, rapid fire dialogue and slightly mysterious plot took priority over burgers, beer and pocket aces.
Keep in mind that Farber writes Business books. This was not the most recent Tom Clancy or Twilight book that was messing with my social calendar. But, in the spirit of his first two books The Radical Leap and The Radical Edge, Farber has opted for the “business fable” which, as Robin Sharma and I discussed in our Horse’s Mouth discussion earlier this year, may very well be the way of the future in business and personal development books. There’s something about integrating a narrative – characters, and a story – into business lessons that makes them that much more impactful and memorable; maybe even more memorable than real life case studies. We get into the heads of the characters – we learn as they learn and we question as they question. We love stories and, when they’re written properly, we can learn a great deal from them. So, what do we learn from Greater Than Yourself?
“I’ve come to see that limited opportunity – at work or anywhere else – is more illusion than reality. An illusion that we perpetuate by believing that success is a zero-sum game.”
Gene Zander, Greater Than Yourself, page 67
Greater Than Yourself is a great story, wrapped around a fairly simple, yet powerful message: True Leadership is about regularly giving away our knowledge, experience, insights and contacts. It’s about constantly scanning for those people around you who want to make a difference in the world and instilling greatness in them by providing them with all the resources you have at your disposal. Greater Than Yourself is instruction and a reminder that when we give of ourselves, we gain from that experience. We gain loyalty, reputation and a sense of accomplishment that exceeds any pride we typically have in our own accomplishments. If that sounds a bit “flakey” or “soft” for you, Farber grounded the point for me with a concept I’ll paraphrase here:
If you’re a parent, think about your children. How does it feel when your child succeeds? How does that feeling compare to your own successes?
Parents in healthy relationships with their children will agree that while they still take pride (obviously) in their own accomplishments, there is something complex and wonderfully enriching about watching their children succeed. There is a depth of satisfaction that cannot be explained. The concept from Greater Than Yourself is something like that – when we unconditionally give of ourselves to those who we choose to help, the sense of accomplishment is virtually indescribable.
Create More Betterness
“The vast majority of people want to grow, to thrive, to contribute, to make a difference. Those are the people I want to encourage, to cultivate, to build and expand my company around. I’m not going to operate my business based on the lowest common denominator. I’m going to do whatever I can to cultivate the philanthropic impulse that exists in most people.”
Cat Cassidy, Greater Than Yourself, page 127
I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in problems; the challenges of the here and now. One of the things I love most about the concept of Greater Than Yourself (or GTY, for short) is that it encourages you to mentally move beyond today’s insignificant issues. By constantly scanning your network for people who could benefit from your knowledge, skills or contacts and simultaneously doing a self assessment of what it is you have to give, you’re forced to think “big picture”. In essence, you’re training your mind to look for ways to maximize your contribution to the planet by leveraging other peoples’ desire to make a difference with their lives. And, in providing to those people who are working to make a difference, I believe we can reduce the impact of those few people who seem determined to be miserable. GTY, for me, is about looking for specific ways to empower others with the knowledge, skills and contacts that I have developed over the years (and continue to develop, daily).
You’ve Got A Lot to Give (seriously)
“first thing is to recognize what you have, then take personal accountability for increasing it every waking hour of every day of your life.”
Plumeria Maple, Greater Than Yourself, page 47
When many of us think of “philanthropy”, we think of cash donations. Maybe some people think of volunteering time at a soup kitchen or a church fundraiser. But philanthropy is about a lot more than simply money and time. And it also has a much wider spread than simply to the homeless or sick. As mentioned earlier in this article, we can give knowledge. We can lend or teach skills. We can share contacts and experiences. Most of us have far more to offer than we give ourselves credit for. If the GTY philosophy is about leveraging our human experience by sharing pieces of it with worthy people, we must first take stock of what we have to give.
In Greater Than Yourself, a character named Plumeria Maple has Steve (the protagonist of the story) create an inventory of what he has to offer. To make the exercise easier, she suggests Steve make lists. Lists like “Meaningful Experiences I’ve Had”, “Things I Do Well” or “People I Know”. It’s a neat exercise for a couple reasons. First, it’s a big confidence booster to remind you of all the experience, knowledge and skills you’ve gained over the years. It’s also a great first step in looking for ways to “donate” some of what you have to offer with people around you. Being aware of what you have to give makes it a whole lot easier to actually do so.
“I tithe a percentage of my time to my GTY projects.”
Cat Cassidy, Greater Than Yourself, page 129
We’re all busy. It’s one of the biggest complaints of the 21st century: “I don’t have enough time”. So if we’re so time starved, how can we possibly think of donating some of our time to helping other people make a difference? Farber’s elegant answer is appropriated from the Christian faith; the concept of “tithing”. Tithing, effectively, is the act of donating a percentage of your income (typically 10%) to the church. The concept works because it’s a standard percentage that’s preset and then followed religiously (pardon the pun). One of Farber’s characters, Cat Cassidy, suggests that the concept of tithing can be applied to GTY projects. If Cat knows that she typically works 60-70 hours per week, then she knows – up front – that she plans to “tithe” 6-7 hours that week to GTY projects; people that can benefit from her experience, connections and knowledge. What the percentage is, and whether it’s of work hours, leisure hours or total waking hours is up to you. The value is in setting a standard, then sticking to it each week.
Something that wasn’t mentioned in the book, but I wanted to add to the concept, is the energy you gain through the act of adding value to someone’s life. I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve had friends or clients call and share successes with me – successes that I had some small part in creating – and it’s an unbelievable surge of energy. I actually get so charged from those calls that my productivity increase almost always exceeds the time I would have spent on the project in the first place.
The Greater Than Yourself concept – effectively the act of “paying it forward”, giving of yourself without expecting payment or reward, is not a new one. As Farber admits in the beginning of the book, the “Golden Rule” has been around since the dawn of humanity… which is perhaps why it’s so important that we continue to reconnect with the concept. It is fundamentally “human” to want to provide value to others. The positive emotions and peace of mind that come from helping others succeed is a part of our genetic makeup. In Greater Than Yourself, Steve Farber does a tremendous job of reminding us of that fact, and of teaching us how to tap into that desire in our day-to-day lives. I highly recommend this book.