A Company That Demonstrates The Power Of Altruistic Leadership

For over 30 years, Yonkers, NY-based Greyston Bakery has maintained a policy that encourages anyone to apply for employment, regardless of his or her education or criminal record. Profits from their organization support daycare centers, health clinics and counseling services. Its cakes have been served in the finest restaurants and at the White House. As Rebecca Leung reported in her article, “Greyston Bakery: Let ‘Em Eat Cake,” “The bakery doesn’t hire people to make cakes. It makes cakes to hire people.”

Mike Brady, the bakery’s CEO, is committed first and foremost to helping people succeed in life. Greyston’s commitment to human growth and potential gives people a first and second chance in life and it is winning because of it. “We are seeing a tipping point in consumer and business interest in buying from mission-based companies, and our sales have grown by over 50% in the last 4 years,” Brady said.

Social innovation is the next major business model disruptor, and Greyston Bakery’s open hiring model is a perfect example of how social justice can drive competitive advantage. We compete successfully in the global supply chains of Ben & Jerry’s and Whole Foods Market because we differentiate our business based on giving anyone a chance for employment without concern for their background or experience. It is a groundbreaking model that our partners appreciate and support.

When I heard about Greyston’s story I was reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The opening of the novel particularly moved me as it colorfully captured what I believe to be at the heart of altruistic and successful leadership. The narrative speaks of the legend of Narcissus, a young boy who knelt by a lake each day to admire himself. One morning, overwhelmed by his own beauty, he fell into the lake and drowned. A goddess then appeared to find the lake filled with salty tears. She asked the lake why it wept for the boy, assuming it had delighted in his beauty. She was wrong. The lake grieved its own beauty when it recognized itself in the reflection of Narcissus’ eyes. The lake had never noticed the boy’s appearance at all.

It is critically important as a business leader to understand what your employees see when they look at you. Do they recognize in your eyes an interest in yourself or in them? Do you help them find their own beauty and strength or blind them by yours? The answers to these questions are the secret of truly effective leadership.

If your employees only see recognition and rewards flowing to you instead of experiencing personal benefits and growth from following you, your ability to influence them will be limited. If their focus is on your benefits it will be easier to sway your team away from following you for them to pursue other opportunities. However, if they experience sustained, positive and personal benefits such as good jobs, a comfortable income, development opportunities, personal time to enjoy life outside of work and a caring and rewarding work environment, then a strong emotional and psychological bond can be formed. This bond is also reinforced by those closest to your employees – family and friends – because they may share in the benefits, or at least take joy in seeing them happy and fulfilled. The connection creates magic and inspires people to follow you anywhere.

Leadership That Counts

Acting selflessly towards others does not come naturally to every leader. Nor are most corporate structures set-up to encourage or foster such behavior. In many cases, personal objectives are given to leaders to reward work tasks versus achieving success by effectively leading others.

In People Follow You: The Real Secret to What Matters Most in Leadership, Jeb Blount explains, “Ultimately, people follow leaders they like, trust, and believe in, leading to higher productivity and long-term development. Managers don’t get paid for what they do but rather for the performance of their people. By putting people first, you’ll position yourself and your company for success.”

Dan Price is the CEO of Seattle, WA based Gravity Payments, a credit card processing company serving over 10,000 clients nationally. Its motto: “The only way to do business is to serve others, do more for them, and charge less.” The company’s career page offers unlimited paid time off, Flannel Fridays and the cultural statement, “Take care of your employees, and they’ll take care of your customers.” Last year it was awarded Washington’s Best Workplaces award.

In an extreme and controversial example of altruistic leadership, Price recently reduced his own compensation from about $1 million annually to $70,000 to subsidize wage increases for his workers.

Knowing the challenges his lower-wage workers faced buying homes or making ends meet, Price instituted a new minimum wage at his company setting all employees to a salary of at least $70,000 per year. Many employees doubled their salaries which altered their lives for the better.

While the jury is still out on how Gravity Payments will perform in the wake of this radical action, Price stands by his decision as the right thing to do for his people and company. “If we’re actually able to pay everybody enough that they can live a normal life, within a mile or two of our office, then to me, there is a moral imperative to create some standard, some [salary] floor,” he told CNN.

Despite the naysayers and admittedly bumpy and challenging road post policy implementation, Price’s new initiative has brought a flood of new clients and job applicants in support for his social responsibility – a good sign for the future of Gravity Payments and business leadership. Price’s actions exemplify the heart of an altruistic leader, but also highlights the importance of organizational sustainability – a necessity to continue to serve your employees.

Putting People First

While I was lucky to have been raised around giving and successful business leaders like my father and maternal grandfather, an early job at a drug store chain taught me the world could be quite different from what I imagined.

My manager wasn’t much older than me. The personal label on his pricing gun read: “Big Rick.” The small group of immature high school kids who worked for him quickly modified his nickname to a joke.

“Big *ick” was interested in one thing and one thing only: himself. When someone had an idea, he often sold it as his own. Those who made him look bad or provided opposition were quickly dismissed. It seemed he wanted to be promoted into a bigger role by any means. I and others moved on to new jobs as soon as we could. The organization is no longer in business.

Deloitte partner Jennifer Knickerbocker has been instrumental in orchestrating more than $100 million in pro bono services for organizations, including Girl Scouts, Dress for Success and YWCA. She asserts that leadership is “all about putting people first, and understanding that your success is directly linked to the success of those you lead. If you believe that your success is linked to theirs – enabling the success of those you lead is a natural priority. When you invest in people in a way that makes them perform better, you’ll be better for it too, and the results you achieve together will be greater. Doing these things leads to a higher sense of engagement, performance, retention, and communication.”

Do You Have What It Takes?

You do not need to aspire to be Gandhi, Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela to be an altruistic leader. There are simple things you can achieve every day like recognizing others for good work, asking about an important event in someone’s life, or making an extra effort to assist an employee in a task he or she may be struggling to complete. You must sincerely believe in the power of putting others first and make it an active choice.

Ask yourself:

Am I passionate about helping others achieve fulfillment in life?

Do I delight in the success of others?

Do I measure my value in life by those I help along the way?

Have I made someone’s life better today?

History has proven that the more you serve others in life, the more abundance shows up in your own life. Plus, studies and reports show “ . . . when we make the effort to give without expectations of reciprocity, we feel fulfilled and energized.”As Greyston Bakery demonstrates, altruism is powerful force for effective leadership, business outcomes and positive social change.

As a leader, remember why you are kneeling at the lake of leadership – for the benefit of those looking back at you – your followers. Nothing good comes to those that focus on themselves over others, as the story of Narcissus illustrates.

Can you think of ways to give back to your employees or motivate them through selfless means? Share your ideas below.

For more information about me and my new book How to Find a Job, Career and Life You Love (Second Edition) and companion recording, Surrender to Your Purpose go to LouisEfron.comAmazon.com and iTunes.


Published on Forbes, 12th August 2015

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.