My theme for you in this Leading Thoughts is as much a principle of economics as it is a principle of leadership, yet I want to emphasize it strongly since it touches on an important matter at the heart in business leadership.

As you may know, I’ve had the privilege of writing and speaking about the Guinness family and how they used their firm to have a massive impact on the poor in their home country of Ireland. One of the maxims that they held dear and which led to their success was this: “If you want to make money from people, you must be willing for people to make money from you.”

When I first encountered this sentence in a speech by a Guinness heir, I saw it as an antidote to much that dominates our business world today. It is common in our time for books and conferences to encourage business to be conducted as war. Victory is the goal in the marketplace, crushing the competition the ultimate end.

When I hear views like these, I think back to when I first studied economics in college. I remember being taught that a perfect free market exchange was not one in which there is a victor and a loser. It was instead one in which both gain. I want money more than I want to keep that antique desk I no longer use. You need an antique desk and are willing to part with money. We both gain. We both walk away feeling that we got a good deal—not a good deal over each other but rather a good deal for our individual circumstances.

My work affords me opportunities to hear successful people talk about the philosophies they built upon. I wish I could fully tell you how many times I hear these time-worn principles: Leave some on the table. Don’t defeat a man in the marketplace because you’ll soon want him as a customer and a friend. Be generous because it leads to business success. Be the business that raises the tide for all businesses, because everyone will ultimately benefit. Business is not war, it is the economic cooperation that causes everyone to thrive. 

These are some old school principles that I usually hear from senior leaders who have achieved magnificently. What I tend to hear from younger business leaders is the opposite. They want to conquer and I fear for them. I fear not just for their businesses, but for their souls. I also fear for what such a condition of heart will mean for their families and their friends.

The Guinness family, on the other hand, wanted everyone they worked with to do well. They were known for generous business deals and for even helping their competition in practical, meaningful ways. The Guinness firm became one of the world’s great companies, yet they also helped to build entire industries, brought wealth to Ireland, and modeled a transforming brand of business before a watching world. In short, they built a legacy, not just a company, and they did it through generosity in the marketplace.

Ponder this in terms of your own life and leadership. The art of the deal is not killing the competition. The art of the deal is conducting yourself in business so as to prosper and to bring prosperity to others. How are you building this into your business plan and leadership?

That’s it. Lead well. I’m proud of you for continually striving to be the best leader you can be.