Generosity and Career Success

I’m finishing up a week in Spain, doing some consulting work for one of multinational corporate clients.  Cathy is at home recovering from her shoulder replacement surgery.  She tells me that many of our friends have been very generous in calling her and helping her with small things that are difficult to do when your arm is in a sling.

If you really want to become the life and career success you want to be, you have to generous.  I’m writing this today not only to provide you with some career advice, but to thank all of the people who have been so generous to Cathy and me in the aftermath of her shoulder replacement surgery.

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Your kindness means the world to Cathy and me.

Many years ago, I participated in a workshop in which we were asked to write our epitaph.  Here is what I wrote…

Bud Bilanich – He always did his best.  He was always willing to help anybody.

I think my predisposition towards generosity comes from my working class roots.  Everybody in my little town always helped everybody else.  You probably already know that I’m a Pittsburgh guy. I grew up in Ambridge, PA, just 15 miles from where the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers forms the Ohio River. Ambridge is a true company town.  Its name comes from the fact that the US Steel American Bridge Division was headquartered there for many years.

Growing up in Ambridge so close to Pittsburgh, I am a lifelong Pittsburgh Steeler fan.  Displaced Pittsburgh guys like me have a love affair with their hometown and its football team. A while back, a friend of mine sent me an article about Art Rooney, the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers.   He’s gone now, but he is remembered fondly by the people in Pittsburgh.

The story happens in a funeral home. Kathleen Rooney, Art’s wife of over 50 years, had just passed away. A guy by the name of Dan Lackner, who worked in the Steelers’ office when he was in high school, went to pay his respects.

While he was there, he ran into another friend of his whose father, a retired Pittsburgh fireman, had just passed away. He paid his respects to his old friend’s father. There were no people or flowers in the old fireman’s visitation room. The son said that his dad had outlived all of his friends.  He wasn’t surprised that very few people had come to pay their respects.  In fact, he wasn’t even sure if it made any sense to have a viewing.

You have to understand that in Pittsburgh, everybody goes to viewings at funeral homes. When my grandmother passed away, I saw people whom I hadn’t seen since I graduated from high school 40 years previous. They read the obituaries and showed up. She spent the last 15 years of her life in Florida.  Nevertheless, members of her church in Ambridge came to pray for her the night before her burial.  So, in Pittsburgh, an empty visitation room with a casket and no mourners is an especially sad thing.

As the story goes, Art Rooney, who was in mourning for his wife, noticed Dan Lackner coming out of the other room. He asked who was there. Lackner told him the story. Mr. Rooney was a generous man.  He immediately went to the room to pay his respects to a man he had never met.

As you might imagine, there was no shortage of flowers for Mrs. Rooney. Mr. Rooney began telling the delivery men to take them to the Lackner family’s room.  They ended up with quite a collection of bouquets.

When the famous Steelers, Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount, came to pay their respects to Mrs. Rooney, Art Rooney sent them to the other room to pay their respects to the fireman.  He told them to be sure to sign the guest book. Pete Rozelle, the NFL Commissioner, was sent back to pay his respects, as were Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, and Pete Flaherty, the then-mayor of Pittsburgh.

The article ended with these words: “Everybody who was anybody in the National Football League had signed the fireman’s guest book. That’s just the way Art Rooney was. That visitor’s book might be worth something these days.”

That was the way Art Rooney was; a man who did things for others, even if they could do nothing for him. Interpersonally competent people – those who become a life and career success — do this. They are kind and generous.  They know that generosity is the secret to relationship building and their own success.

Cathy and I have lots of friends who were generous in their time and well wishes as she recovers from a pretty tough surgery.  You know who you are, I don’t need to mention you here.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Successful people are generous.  They are willing to do whatever they can for whoever needs their help, whenever they need it.  This is good career advice.  Besides creating positive karma, generous people are more likely to receive help when they need it.  But, I must emphasize this point.  Don’t extend your generosity in the hopes that it will come back to you – it will.  Extend your generosity because someone else needs your help.  You’ll not only be helping one individual, you’ll be helping your community – and you’ll be helping yourself.

That’s my career advice when it comes to generosity.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for being generous enough to take the time to read my daily thoughts on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


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