Acquiring Sound Wisdom

Robert Rubin was a top executive at Goldman Sachs and former Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton Administration. I recently was reading about Rubin and an event that completely transformed his life.

He reveals that in his early years at Goldman Sachs he was, essentially, a jerk. He admits that he was “short with people,” “impersonal,” “abrupt and peremptory,” and frequently not nice to colleagues. None of this hindered his career as a successful arbitrageur; no one much cared how traders behaved as long as they delivered results. But then one day an older partner told Rubin he could possibly play a larger role in the firm if he changed his ways and actually started to care about the people he worked with. As Rubin recalls in his memoir, “I’ve often asked myself why this advice affected me so much.” He speculates on reasons, but the bottom line is that it affected him deeply. He started listening to people better, understanding their problems, and valuing their views. He changed an important element of his personality. If he hadn’t, it’s unlikely he would have become one of the most respected and admired figures at Goldman and on Wall Street.

John D. Rockefeller is widely considered the wealthiest American of all time; the richest person in modern history. He founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870, which later became Exxon. Rockefeller recognized the significance of having good people skills. He said, “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable as a commodity of sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.”

Think about how you interact with people and how well you work with them. Are you a good listener or do you talk too much? Do you encourage others? Do you take an interest in their lives? Are you humble or are you always seeking to exalt yourself? Are you reliable and do you always do what you say you are going to do? Are you a team player?

It strikes me that good human relation skills are in harmony with the teaching of Jesus. This is not surprising because Jesus’ great desire was that we would have relationships that flourish, including our relationships in the workplace.

I think author John Maxwell said it best:

If you haven’t learned how to get along with people, you will always be fighting a battle to succeed. However, making people skills a strength will take you farther than any other skill you develop. People like to do business with people they like. Or to put it the way President Theodore Roosevelt did: “The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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