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Being a 'Boss' Entrepreneur Doesn't Mean You Have to Be Selfish To truly achieve success in business, save the drama for Netflix and choose gratitude and generosity instead.

By John Ruhlin Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Lies. Cheating. Stealing. All are heralded as the way to millions in the Netflix series Girlboss. Although the network peddles the story of Sophia Amoruso's climb to the top as a comedy, it should be touted as a modern morality play about being a selfish jerk.

Sure, it might sound exciting to boomers, Generation-Xers, millennials and Generation Z up-and-comers aiming for the top rung of the corporate ladder to follow shark-style Girlboss atttitudes. But while the series glamorizes Amoruso, there is nothing remotely regal about an entrepreneur who lacks compassion and foresight.

Related: 4 Takeaways From the Rise and Fall of Nasty Gal

In reality, founders should instead practice selflessness and an attitude of gratitude to genuinely reach the pinnacle of success.The goal should be about grace: You either embrace it or doom yourself to a reputation of soullessness. That's no way to go through life or build a business.

Sharks belong in the ocean, not the corporate world.

Think being a shark is necessary? Try cutting your entrepreneurial teeth on a different animal: conscious capitalism. Companies such as Southwest Airlines practice this method of transparent, gracious business flow. In fact, Southwest has repeatedly earned a reputation for being a company that has far fewer complaints than its competitors, according to a WalletHub report.

I personally had a frustrating experience with Southwest recently, but after I reached out to the CEO and detailed the problem, the company reached back with solutions. Thanks to the airline's quick, helpful response, I'm still happily flying Southwest.

Now, let's juxtapose Southwest's kudos-laden rise with Uber's stunning reputational plunge. All it took was a single engineer to expose Uber's underhanded practices before federal investigators had enough to start a case against the ride-sharing giant.

What brought Uber down? A shaky, dark foundation built on quicksand. You're never going to have Southwest-style staying power if you build on an unstable surface. So, instead of treating employees, vendors and consumers like pebbles under your feet, turn your sights to loving and serving people as a giver, not a taker.

Related: 4 Things Brands Should Learn From Uber's Upheaval

Wharton's Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, has noted that people who treat others with genuine kindness perform the best over time; and those words are a good reminder for individuals ready to grab the world by the collar. "Giver" entrepreneurs are successful because they know effective relationships are built on positivity, not fear.

Consider my own experience: At a conference, I met another entrepreneur. We spoke at length and exchanged information. As a follow-up, I sent him a gift of Cutco knives -- after all, he had, joke, joke, "carved" out time for me. Later, he introduced me to a friend of his, who introduced me to other people. They requested my speaking and product services, and more introductions followed.

Through it all, I continued to add value by staying in touch with everyone. I sent handwritten notes and surprised my network with thoughtful gifts. Those actions changed the game and illustrated how responsive people can be when you put yourself out there.

Making friends and influencing people through gifting

The golden rule here might be a somewhat trite trope, but it's accurate. Karma tells us that kindness begets kindness. If you do something nice for someone, it's likely that down the road, someone will do something nice for you, as well.

Related: The Importance of Being Generous

Are you worried that you have zero time to practice giving as an entrepreneur? Hogwash. Try these techniques for bettering yourself and buffering your journey to professional stardom:

1. Take your team somewhere special.

Team retreats to interesting and fun destinations make everyone feel appreciated. Choose a time and a location, then invite all your employees and their significant others. No company is too small to do this regularly: Consider how Professional Irrigation Systems, based in Lake St. Louis, Mo., offered its employees a five-day Mexican retreat. Think turnover is a problem with this company? No way.

If your company is stable, and you want to build momentum and camaraderie, consider at least a weekend retreat for everyone to recharge together. Research from Marketing Innovators shows that businesses where employees report higher morale perform 20 percent better than their competitors. What better way to improve morale than through a memorable group outing?

2. Foster true work-life balance.

As business leaders, we're pulled in a million different directions -- but so are our employees. Allowing for the messiness of life is key. So, consider setting up an office system that offers flexibility. For my team, that means never worrying if we have to leave because one of our kids is sick or we have to head to a doctor's appointment.

Offering flexibility in the workplace leads to employees who are happy and focused. These employees care about the future of their companies, and they tend not to leave their jobs as often as others. Of course, flex systems work in different ways for different entities. Figure out how and where you can offer fluidity to your talent, and they'll appreciate you as a thoughtful leader.

3. Give gifts, not swag.

Never call anything with your company logo a gift. It isn't. It's a promotional product, better known as swag. This isn't to say you shouldn't hand out logo-emblazoned shirts or paraphernalia, but don't disguise them as gifts. A real gift provides value. Recipients want something they can enjoy long-term, not something that wows them in the moment but goes on to collect dust later, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University.

A gift by nature is recipient-focused. Some business leaders might try to camouflage swag with some element of personalization, but don't think for a second that will fool employees or clients. Personally, I love sending out handcrafted items made in the United States with recipients' names -- not our logo -- on them. The gift doesn't need our logo if it's already memorable.

4. Remember spouses and significant others.

This tip deserves more space than it gets here because spouses and significant others are your workers by extension. They get to hear the worst of the worst about your company; they can also be your biggest allies. Give them something special occasionally (and not just on holidays), such as trips, gifts and other perks. Husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends make fabulous cheerleaders.

Research from the Harp Family Institute suggests that more than one-quarter of entrepreneurs surveyed who had worked with their families to set goals, were more satisfied than their counterparts. Remember that, and give generously to those behind-the-scenes family partners.

Related: Do You Have a Bad Boss? Here's What to Look For. (Infographic)

The bottom line here: Why become a horrid boss when you have a better alternative? Instead of walking over the people you need the most, thank them every step of the way. Make no mistake: Your cloud of giving will produce a veritable downpour of support.

John Ruhlin

Founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group

John Ruhlin is an entrepreneur, international speaker and author of Giftology. More relationship and referral strategies can be found at Giver's Edge.

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