Killing it with kindness

One rainy night many years ago, a gentleman and his wife entered the lobby of a small hotel in Philadelphia. The man asked the clerk if he had any rooms available.

The clerk, who was actually the hotel manager, was a friendly man who prided himself on superior customer service.  He said that unfortunately the hotel was completely booked.  “However,” he said, “rather than send you out in the rain at 1 a.m.  I would be happy to offer you my room.  It’s not a suite, but it will be comfortable for the night.”

The man tried to object, but the clerk insisted.  The next morning, as he paid his bill, the gentleman said to the clerk:  “You are the kind of manager who should be the boss of the best hotel in the United States.”

Two years passed, but the two men stayed in touch.  One day the clerk/manager received a letter from the guest, inviting him to New York for a visit including a round-trip airline ticket.  When the clerk/manager arrived in New York, the man met him and led him to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 34th Street.  He pointed to a brand-new building.  “There is the hotel I want you to manage,” said the man.

“You must be joking,” said the astonished clerk/manager.

“I can assure you that I am not,” said the man, William Waldorf Astor, and the palace that he had built was the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

The moral of this story is you never know when kindness will come full circle.

Kind words and kind actions start with kind thoughts.  In a hyper-competitive world, we might be tempted to take a dramatically different approach.  But that tactic doesn’t produce any winners.


Mean people are not happier, or necessarily more successful.  If you don’t believe me, spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook.  The comments are too frequently cruel or so extreme, and they breed even more ugliness.  That’s the definition of “anti-social media.”

Pastor and author C. Neil Strait said:  “Kindness is more than deeds.  It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch.  It is anything that lifts another person.”

It even extends to the animal kingdom!  Great Britain’s Newcastle University found that cattle treated with care and a “more personal touch” tend to produce more milk for farmers. The school studied over 500 farmers across the UK and – believe it or not – found that cows given names by their owners gave over 50 percent more milk than cattle that were nameless.

Contrary to the old saying, nice people can finish first.  The key is to know how to use kindness to your advantage.  If you think you might need a refresher course, here are some steps you can take to make kindness a habit.

  • First, be kind to yourself.  You’ll find being nice to others easier if you build your self-respect with positive thoughts about your personality and achievements.  When you are good to yourself, you are best to others.
  • Treat everyone with respect.  Don’t worry about who’s on top.  Treat everyone the way you want to be treated, regardless of their position or job title.  No one is too big to be kind and courteous, but many people are too small.
  • Say no when necessary.  You can’t do everything.  Say no, but be polite and positive.  It’s kinder to say no to something when you cannot devote adequate time or attention than to do a half-hearted job.
  • Plant seeds of kindness.  Do something nice every day.  Kindness pays most when you don’t do it for payback.
  • Take the high road.  Trust me, it’s the road less traveled.  It’s a big wide highway with no traffic jams.  And no road rage.

There’s an old story about a king who had a beautiful ring and three sons who each wanted the ring.  When the king died, he left three rings for his sons and a note that said, “My dear sons, one of these rings is real, and two are fake.  The way you will know who has the real ring is that the son with the real ring will be kind and generous to all people.”

Each of the three sons spent the rest of his life being good to others – to prove that he had the real ring.


Mackay’s Moral: Funny thing about kindness:  The more it’s used the more you have of it.

Lessons learned from The Champ

I will never forget the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta when Muhammad Ali was the surprise person to light the Olympic torch.  I was sitting in the stadium, watching that spectacle with my entire family.

At the time, I was writing my third book, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty:  The Only Networking Book You will Ever Need.”  I wanted to intersperse stories from the best networkers in the world.  I thought, who better than The Champ?  But how would I get to him?

Remember the Broadway show and movie “Six Degrees of Separation?”  The title refers to the belief that there’s a chain of no more than six people that links every person on this planet to every other person.

I often use that strategy in tracking people down, and it came in handy again this time.  John Y. Brown, the former Kentucky Governor, is a good friend.  He put me in touch with Howard Bingham, Muhammad’s long-time photographer and best friend.  Howard introduced me to Muhammad, and I flew to his beautiful 88-acre estate – the former hideout of Al Capone – in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and interviewed The Champ for six hours for my book.

But first, I did my homework and completed a “Mackay 66” on Muhammad.  (The Mackay 66 Customer Profile is a 66-question synopsis, available for free on my website –  At MackayMitchell Envelope Company we require all of our sales people to fill it out about each of our customers.

We want to know, based on routine conversation and observation, what our customers are like as human beings.  What do they feel strongly about?  What are they most proud of having achieved?  Any status symbols in their office?  In other words, we want to know what turns that person on.

In Muhammad’s case it was magic, so I had a local magician teach me a few magic tricks that I could explain and teach to The Champ.  We hit it off and have been great friends for the last 20 years.  That relationship extended to a tremendous friendship between our wives, Carol Ann and Lonnie.


During a break from that interview, we headed out to lunch.  I introduced Muhammad to my driver, Francis.  Twenty minutes later, we rolled into a restaurant.  As we’re getting out of the car, Muhammad whispered to me, “Tell Francis to join us for lunch.”

One thing for sure, when Francis got up in the morning, picked up his work sheet, and read that he was assigned to pick up an envelope salesman from Minnesota for a routine run, he never imagined that he’d be invited by Muhammad Ali to join him for lunch.  Muhammad was a master at trying to make everyone feel special.

The Champ also taught me many other lessons that apply to both life and business:

  • Don’t be boring or predictable.  Entertain your visitors.
  • Be your own self-promoter.  He learned this lesson from pro wrestler Gorgeous George when the two were interviewed on a radio program.  A flair for poetry proved helpful!
  • Stand up for your convictions.  His faith led him to be a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, for which he was suspended from boxing for more than three years during his prime.
  • Reward your fans – not with a brush off, like so many athletes today, but take genuine pleasure to honor their requests.  When I traveled with him, Muhammad would stop and talk to everyone. He strongly believed in answering his fan mail and sending out autographed photos.
  • Be generous with your time for worthwhile charities.  Prime example:  The Champ was an unstoppable force behind Celebrity Fight Night, which has raised $123 million dollars to support the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix and many other charities. I have had the honor of serving on the Celebrity Fight Night board for 20 years.
  • The world always looks brighter behind a smile.  Muhammad always had his 1,000 megawatt smile.  He knew smiling was the universal language.
  • Deal with your own physical limitations in good spirits and with optimism – not bitterness and self-pity.

Back in 1975, a “New York Times” reporter asked Muhammad why he had made a significant contribution to a specific charity.  Ali responded:  “Service to others is the rent I pay for my room here on earth.”

He has paid that rent many times over.

Muhammad Ali will always be “The Greatest.”


Mackay’s Moral:  You may not float like a butterfly or sting like a bee, but you would do well to learn from Ali.  

It all starts with a great idea

J.M. Haggar was fascinated with Henry Ford’s idea of the production line and mass production.  He thought if cars can be mass-produced, why can’t men’s fine trousers and at popular prices?

Many clothing manufacturers doubted Haggar’s potential.  But he proved them wrong. Using leftover suit fabrics instead of denim, Haggar made a new kind of dress pants called “slacks,” and in the process revolutionized the men’s clothing industry.

The first lesson in all my corporate speeches is creativity.  I think it is that important.  Creativity is not rocket science.  It’s just finding a new or improved way to do anything.

J.M. Haggar did exactly that and became a household name.

When I am giving a speech, I prepare by talking to 8-10 people who will be in the audience to try and find creative stories.  I hit the jackpot recently when I spoke to a couple real estate agents.

One told me that he traveled to India for his brother’s wedding in 1999.   He brought along a portable SOLD sign and posed with it in front of the Taj Mahal.  He used that photo as a postcard to send out to his clients.  It read “One man built the greatest monument to love the world has ever seen.”  Below, in smaller print, he wrote, “I just sell real estate, but I do it with great passion.”

His clients still talk about that postcard years later.  He’s done other versions featuring Buckingham Palace and Mount Rainier.  These have helped him stand out in his local market.

Another realtor told me that she scours current listings by competitors.  She then sends out a large red mailing tube with a fuse that looks like a stick of dynamite.  Inside is a large flyer that reads:  “BAM!  Your listing has expired!  Do you want to know why?”  She gets lots of replies.

She also mails letters introducing herself.  Then she sends a second mailing – she crumples up the first letter and writes on the outside – “Don’t throw me away again!”  She gets lots of responses to this second mailing.

Another realtor in the Twin Cities told me about a marketing opportunity that she jumped on.  She is a big fan of the Cities 97 Sampler – a music CD produced by a local radio station – that Target sells exclusively every November to benefit local charities.  On release day, people line up hours ahead at every Target store, waiting to buy the disc.  Nine years ago, while waiting in line, she realized that she had ready-made prospects.  For the last eight years, she has passed out hot coffee, breakfast bars and hand warmers along with her contact information, introducing herself and working the crowd.  She donates 3 percent of her commissions generated from this event to the same charities.  She lists and sells 5-6 homes each year from this event.

What do they have in common?  They took something familiar in a different direction.  That’s creativity.  Here’s how to follow their example:


  • Crossbreed your ideas.  Instead of looking for one great idea, grab hold of two good ideas and look for interesting connections and juxtapositions.  Reptiles and airplane disaster movies were unrelated concepts until someone came up with Snakes on a Plane.
  • Refine other ideas.  Don’t directly steal anyone else’s work, but look at what’s been done with an eye toward doing it differently.
  • Repeat.  Analyze what you’ve already done, and try creating it all over again.  Chances are you’ll find a way to improve it, or at least give it a fresh angle.  You may also find a way to save time or use new resources by exploring what you’re already comfortable with.

But back to Henry Ford.  He hired an efficiency expert to go through his plant.  “Find the nonproductive people,” he instructed.  “Tell me who they are, and I will fire them!”

The expert made the rounds with his clipboard in hand and finally returned to Ford’s office with his report.  “I’ve found a problem with one of your administrators,” he said.  “Every time I walked by, he was sitting with his feet propped up on the desk.  The man never does a thing.  I definitely think you should consider getting rid of him!”

When he learned the name of the man the expert was referring to, Ford shook his head and said, “I can’t fire him.  I pay that man to do nothing but think – and that’s what he’s doing.”


Mackay’s Moral:  Great ideas don’t have to be new – just improved!

A lesson in making mistakes

Try to remember the last time you uttered the words, “I made a mistake.” Was it painful? Expensive? Career-changing? Or therapeutic?

When my kids were young, they used to sing along with a little ditty on “Sesame Street” that went something like this: “Everyone makes mistakes, so why not you?” That’s the wisdom of children speaking: Everyone makes mistakes. Including me. And you.

“Humans have learned only through mistakes,” said engineer and inventor
R. Buckminster Fuller. “The billions of humans in history have had to make quadrillions of mistakes to have arrived at the state where we now have 150,000 common words to identify that many unique and only metaphysically comprehensible nuances of experience.”

He added: “So effective has been the non-thinking, group deceit of humanity that it now says, ‘Nobody should make mistakes,’ and punishes people for making mistakes . . . the courage to adhere to the truth as we learn it involves them, the courage to force ourselves, with the clear admission of all the mistakes we have made – mistakes are sins only when not admitted.”

In business, mistakes can derail a career. But is that fair? I completely agree with what my friend William R. Brody, former president of Johns Hopkins University, said in a 2005 speech: “Mistakes are the downside of risk-taking. And it seems as if we’ve become very unwilling to tolerate mistakes. We’re willing to risk failure in our games, in extreme sports, in our competition on TV reality shows. But not in our business. Not in our research and development – not in our careers or in our medicines or homes, our schools or our personal lives. . . . Being risk-averse is hurting our global competitiveness and stagnating our incomes.”

So when you risk something new or different, you must be prepared for both good and disappointing results. And try as you might, you may not be able to avoid business mistakes. Keep your boss, employees or associates informed and make adjustments as issues arise.

And when a problem develops – as it often does – here are some thoughts on how to turn around your mistakes:


  • Be honest. Never try to cover up mistakes. The earlier you ’fess up, the faster you’ll be able to correct the problem while maintaining your credibility.
  • Take responsibility. Your bosses and employees don’t want to hear excuses. It’s a powerful way to show a sense of accountability for your actions and those of your team.
  • Don’t blame. Focus on solving problems, not finding someone or something to blame. Good managers and employees analyze what they did wrong and learn from it. When the manager takes this tack, employees will be encouraged to learn to look objectively at their own performance.
  • Follow up and follow through. Sometimes simple mistakes point to more complex problems that need to be corrected. A thorough evaluation can reveal something about your habits or the work processes that need to improve
  • Use the opportunity to turn around a situation. Mistakes often are prime times for people to turn bad situations into positive ones. Any customer service guru will tell you that a complaint can be the perfect time to provide the best customer service you have to offer.
  • Move on. Beating yourself up publicly or privately doesn’t do much good. You need to keep your focus and not get distracted when things go wrong.

A story from the book “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland, illustrates the power of taking chances and risking failure when you’re trying to achieve something of quality. On the first day of class, a ceramics teacher announced that he was putting his students into two groups. Half the students would be graded on quantity of works produced, the other half on the quality of just one work.

On the final day of class, the instructor looked at the pots from both groups and realized that the best pots – those with the most creative designs and those that seemed most beautiful – all came from the group graded on quantity.

As the authors put it: “It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

Mackay’s Moral: The biggest mistake you can make is pretending that you didn’t make one.

Create a ‘trust fund’ with your team

I am convinced that T-R-U-S-T is the most important five-letter word in business – not sales or money or any other replaceable commodities.  Trust can be fragile, especially in the workplace.  Once it’s broken, few companies, managers or employees ever win it back.

At every level of every organization, workers need to understand the importance of keeping their word and living up to the organization’s values.  Customers and co-workers want to know they can depend on management.  Trust between managers and employees is crucial to the long-term enthusiasm, loyalty, and productivity of the company.

If you have ever been on the receiving end of a broken promise or a warranty that doesn’t cover whatever is wrong with your item, you understand all too well why trust is central to a working relationship.

“Trust is a calculated risk made with one’s eyes open to the possibilities of failure, but it is extended with the expectation of success,” said Robert Levering, former Ohio congressman.

And although I preach this message constantly, I’m always surprised at the people and companies that just don’t get it – they think the rules don’t apply to them.  Believe me, they do.

The late Peter Drucker, American management consultant and author, said of trust:  “In the ethics of interdependence there are only obligations, and all obligations are mutual obligations.  Harmony and trust – that is, interdependence, require that each side be obligated to provide what the other side needs to achieve its goals and to fulfill itself.”

Your “trust fund” grows in many large and small ways.  To develop a healthy balance of trust in your work relationships, make these “deposits” every day:


  • Tell the truth.  Never assume that certain people “can’t handle the truth.”  Be as honest with your employees as you expect them to be with you.  If you get caught in a lie, your employees won’t trust you.  You may get a second chance, but don’t count on it.
  • Share information.  By demonstrating that you are willing to keep employees informed, you help them make good decisions on their own.  And it builds their confidence while increasing their willingness to actively participate in the growth of the organization.
  • Speak one-on-one with employees.  There’s no better way to build a relationship of trust than through personal, face-to-face contact.
  • Resolve conflicts quickly.  Whether a dispute is between two employees or two departments, promptly resolving the situation will prevent its escalation and minimize disruption of productivity.  Better yet, allow the disputing parties to find a solution.  Doing that shows you trust them to use their best judgment.
  • Avoid showing favoritism.  Equal treatment must be practiced to promote trust, teamwork and respect.
  • Don’t guess when you don’t know an answer.  When you make a mistake, admit it so you can move on and start fixing it.  Honesty is the best way to show people you’re dependable.  Be straightforwardAdmit that you don’t have a ready answer rather than waffling or throwing out a haphazard reply that lacks credibility.
  • Show flexibility in your decision making.  Make exceptions to the rules when common sense dictates it.  And consider unusual alternatives for problems that can’t be resolved by typical methods.
  • Put other people’s interests before yours.  Focus on what’s best for your organization and people, not just about what will benefit you and your career.  When employees see your good intentions, they’ll often make heroic efforts on your part.
  • Keep your promises.  Don’t commit to a promise you can’t deliver.  Think about what’s realistic, and do your best to live up to your word.  Your employees will notice.
  • Behave ethically.  Do the right thing in all your dealings with others.  Stand up for your employees, and at the same time, refuse to accept anything but the best from them – and from yourself.

A remarkable example of trust exists in the deep blue sea, an arrangement between the shark and the pilot fish.  Sharks, as we know, will eat almost any ocean dweller – except for the pilot fish.  In fact, they invite pilot fish to join them for – not as – lunch.  The smaller fish act as an automatic toothpick and eat the leftover food between the sharks’ mighty teeth.

In this unlikely partnership, the shark gets clean teeth and the pilot fish get nourished.  Both swim away satisfied.  And trusting that the next encounter will be just as successful.


Mackay’s Moral:  For any successful working relationship, trust is a must.