How to Measure Success $20 at a Time

Do you want to know how to identify a truly successful person? It isn’t the car they drive, the title on their business cards, or the heft of their wallet. All of that stuff is fleeting, and all of that stuff is about them. It’s ego food.

No, the way a wise person measures her own success is more like this: How do I give back? In lean times as well as in times of plenty, who else do I help up? From wherever I am: not just when I’ve “made it,” but all along life’s journey.

Last weekend, we celebrated my sister’s birthday. We aren’t extravagant gift-givers in my family; anyway, by now we adults pretty much have everything we need. So most of the loot she scored was inexpensive, but personal: a handmade turtle because she rescued a turtle crossing the street recently. A couple of beach books – we’re big into books, and as a teacher, my sister is usually reading serious literature for her classes. The most costly thing I remember her getting this time around was a ninety-minute massage for $150. She loved that one.

How do I give back? In lean times as well as in times of plenty, who else do I help up? From wherever I am: not just when I’ve “made it,” but all along life’s journey.

But then she got something worth only $20 that made her cry tears of joy. It was a clutch of chicken eggs – or more accurately, a clutch given in her name to a family she’ll never meet in Ghana, via Heifer International.

Heifer is this remarkable organization one of us stumbled upon years and years ago, through our church or some friends – no one can really remember. But we do remember what they do: turn donations from citizens of affluent nations into gifts of livestock for poor rural villagers in the developing, and the not-yet-developing, world.

And these animals aren’t given just to be eaten! For instance, through the gift given in my sister’s name, one family in a village where Heifer works will be given a clutch of fertilized eggs. Heifer will teach them how to hatch the eggs and raise the chickens to adulthood so they can sell those chickens’ eggs to their neighbors. Part of the agreement Heifer has with the family is that when their chickens produce chicks, those chicks must be given to a neighboring family. The first family must teach the second how to raise the chickens to sell their eggs. And so on, and so on, creating a virtuous circle of education in animal husbandry and sharing that lifts the entire village out of crushing poverty, one family at a time. At some point this village will have enough of a surplus that it will sell to other villages, or in the market of a nearby town.

Too often, we believe in the grand gesture when we give. Our nations give billions to the government of another nation, even though we know full well that much of that money will end up in the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt government officials, or it will end up buying arms for warlords.

Too often our companies spend lavishly on a one-day “charity day” tagged onto a sales award vacation or executive retreat. Here in Naples, Florida, this is so common that organizations often have to turn groups away during tourist season.

Perhaps instead of the grand gesture we should spend a little more time to find organizations that mean more to us as individuals, and that already have their feet on the street where conditions are worst and corruption is highest. Organizations like Heifer, or the Wounded Warrior Project (another of my favorites), or Habitat for Humanity, or the Rotary Club’s polio eradication campaign, or Grameen Bank, or Kiva, or Hope for Haiti.

Here at Switch and Shift, we have a term we use for leaders who get it: Bleeding Heart Capitalist. In our lexicon, it’s the highest honor you can bestow upon another leader. Indeed, giving back is the whole point of success, isn’t it?

Even if it’s just $20 at a time.

If you’re looking for an engaging, truly giving leader to follow and befriend on Twitter, Heifer’s CEO Pierre Ferrari is a great leader to start with.


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Copyright: iakov / 123RF Stock Photo

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

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