3 Ways to Follow a Greedless Road to Success

Self-centeredness doesn't yield returns. Here's how to subtract "Wall Street"-style greed from the business equation.
3 Ways to Follow a Greedless Road to Success
Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox
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Everyone knows fictional trader Gordon Gekko’s infamous refrain in the film Wall Street: “Greed is good.” These days, however, a different class of entrepreneur is dismantling and disproving that concept.

Related: All Entrepreneurship Is 'Social' Entrepreneurship

Consider Greg Glassman, for example, who created the fitness revolution known as CrossFit. According to Glassman, his success grew out of the careful cultivation of a great idea, not by any fall into  a trap laid by greed. Rather than run the risk of watering down his brand by slapping its name on a slew of consumer products, he protected it and maintained its integrity. Today, his company is one of the fastest-growing fitness movements in the world.

All too often, though, entrepreneurs believe greed is good, that it's the surest path to success, because a lot of people have found success by screwing other people over. That's unfortunate because, at the end of the day, wealth doesn’t materialize out of thin air -- it’s a transfer of money from one party to another. Sadly, some think the easiest way to make that transfer happen is by hurting someone else.

How and why to go "greedless"

Hurting someone else, as a strategy, doesn’t always turn out so well. Think about Bernie Madoff. He made a fortune ripping off his clients. These days, the only business he’s in is the Swiss Miss market -- selling packages of hot cocoa at a high mark-up to his fellow prisoners.

Then there’s Martin Shkreli, who became “the most hated man in America” after raising the price of the life-saving anti-parasite drug Daraprim, often used to treat infections arising from HIV/AIDS, from $14 per pill to $750. Not only is Shkreli now widely reviled, but he has also since been indicted on charges of securities fraud.

Clearly, achieving success via greedy actions is pretty risky. But there are other reasons why more and more entrepreneurs are realizing the benefits of going "greedless." Here are three things you can do to take the greed out of your formula for success:

1. Embrace fair trade on a personal level. 

You have to ensure that all partnerships you enter are win-win. Mark Zuckerberg didn’t become California’s richest resident by unethically extracting people's money; he created a platform that benefited everyone.

According to the CIO Executive Council's and IDC's 2016 Strategic Partner Index survey, more than 70 percent of IT companies spend as much as half of their budgets on outside service providers. This highlights the importance of rising above transactional relationships to make them partnerships.

Everything has a currency: money, advice, service -- you name it. From vendors to customers to employees, many stakeholders will interact with your company, and both sides should always see an equal benefit in those partnerships. For your clients, provide service above and beyond what they could get for the same price. For your employees, be clear and reasonable about why you expect them to do what you ask of them.

2. Keep your ego out of the driver’s seat. 

Many terrible decisions are made in spontaneous flare-ups of ego. Don’t let ego make you stupid. Hold back, take a breath and remember your long-range vision.

To illustrate: A client of ours once lost a large sum of money and then asked us to hold off on collecting payment. We gave this client a few months to get things in order, but then these people stopped answering our calls altogether.

Long story short, some rather harsh words were exchanged -- many of which came straight from my bruised ego. Although we eventually came to an agreement that seemed to satisfy everyone, we lost that client. In the long run, I would have been happier (and more successful) if only I had been able to push my ego aside. Live and learn, right?

Related: 8 Ways My Ego Killed My Business

Maybe hearing my experience will help you avoid a similar fate. If you just want to quickly build and sell a company, having a big CEO's ego might help. But self-centeredness never helped anyone achieve sustainable, long-term success.

3. Listen -- you’ll always learn something valuable. 

Communication is a big key to success, and that means openly sharing and receiving information.

For evidence, look at Ryanair. The Irish airline became controversial, refusing to reimburse passengers stranded by the April 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland, which affected nearby EU destinations. The airline also trimmed its stops at several EU airports whose taxes it disagreed with.

But then when the company began listening to customer complaints and taking steps to address them, its CEO Michael O’Leary famously said, “If I’d only known being nice to customers was going to work so well, I’d have started many years ago.”

While that’s a humorous way to relay a rather sobering observation, O’Leary was totally serious. Ryanair saw skyrocketing profits after implementing, in 2014, its “Always Getting Better” program to increase transparency and accountability.

In fact, according to Label Insight’s 2016 Transparency ROI study, 73 percent of consumers will pay more for a product as long as the company is totally honest and transparent about everything that goes into it. If you're not listening, how can you tell whether your messaging is actually answering the questions your customers and partners have about what you're offering them?

Related: 6 Strategies for Being a Better Listener

If you want to find true success for your business, leave the “greed is good” motto back in the 1980s where it belongs. When your business booms, you can start to consider ways you can make a difference by focusing on the opposite of greed: generosity.