The Case For Culture: Living A Life Beyond Yourself

We are living in the age of beyond yourself business. Decades of environmental damage, government lobbying, and financial devastation have created a negative image for the business world. This has birthed a whole new industry of companies that work in traditional markets but operate under strict pro-social principles. There is a growing trend of awareness about where products come from, how companies treat their employees, and how businesses operate. This awareness has led to renewed pressure on government by the public to increase regulations and punish companies that trade sustainability for quick profits. The end is coming for the Gordon Gekkos of the world, as companies find that their longevity can be closely related to their CSR efforts and the choices their employees make.

Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow (and eco-friendly shareholder advocacy group), spoke at Haas on Monday, April 15th and in his speech he pointed to an emerging trend in socially responsible investing. In the years since As You Sow began operations it has been advocating for companies to shift not just their production practices, but also their money into more socially responsible investments. This has resulted in ever increasing returns as regulations and rising interest by consumers about where products come from have pushed socially responsible investments up with much higher long-term growth potential than popular high value slash-and-burn short-run investments. The important lesson here isn’t just where to invest, it’s that the businesses and business practices that are becoming most relevant are the ones which pay more attention to all a company’s stakeholders, not just its stockholders.

Going deeper beyond the macro corporate level, a beyond yourself mindset is your best bet for finding success in your career and your life. Still, the workforce is competitive; doesn’t someone need to have a certain level of ruthlessness to get to the top? Certainly there are people who found success and reached remarkable heights by breaking rules and exploiting others, and while these individuals enjoyed short-run benefits, more often than not their behavior caught up with them. Some went to prison, some lost everything because their strategies were unsustainable, and all of them lost friends and allies. That is why the beyond yourself mentality is so key to a long successful and rewarding career.

One of the most important aspects of gaining power and keeping it is assembling a team of allies and creating a sustainable support network. This network includes co-workers, friends, family, and even business contacts. It also provides very powerful leverage when taking action, implementing a strategy in the workplace, making a career transition, or even bouncing back after losing a job or power in an organization. The beyond yourself mentality is also useful in the workplace for building awareness of stakeholder needs. Much like confidence without attitude helps build listening and understanding, beyond yourself can open your eyes to the need of others. This expands your perspective and can make you better at solving problems, creating solutions that are easy to implement, and coming up with new ideas that get your stakeholders excited and elevate you and your company.

Going beyond yourself is about awareness, it’s about recognizing the impact your decisions have and how to live sustainably in everything you do. Beyond yourself lies at the very heart of each of Haas’ defining principles. It’s the heightened awareness from thinking of others that builds communication and helps one have confidence without attitude, it compels us to speak up and question the status quo, not just for ourselves but for others that may not have a voice. Finally, it gets us all to understand that there’s more to the world than just ourselves and our opinions, that feedback and learning matter, and that we should remain students always.

Albert Einstein once said ‘only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile,’ and there’s a lot of truth to that. Given the changing social norms and expectations of business a life lived thinking of others can make for a life worthwhile. The proof is out there, happiness and success are always right in front of you; you just have to reach beyond yourself and grab it.

This article is the fifth and final article in a five part series that focuses on culture and the Haas School’s Four Defining Principles.

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