Its Not About You (Trait #13, Empathic)

Donald Van de Mark    ,     November 11, 2009
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Empathy can make you rich.

Identifying with all humanity can make you prescient.

Don’t believe me? Believe Charles Schwab. At the end of the second quarter, 2009 his firm had $1.2 trillion under management.

Of course empathy can make you wise about others. But it can also make you very very successful.

Charles Schwab told me that he launched the discount brokerage powerhouse that bears his name because “I felt that the financial service business had developed a brokerage industry that wasn’t empathetic towards customers, they were empathetic towards themselves.”

When a person evolves beyond his or her own neediness, they’re automatically able to put themselves in others’ shoes. This makes for a highly sensitive and just observer. Because this is a perceptor who doesn’t just see others and situations from their own, singular perspective. They see others and the world from a variety of perspectives. So, empathy gives them a huge advantage when it comes to anticipating wants, needs and opinions of others. When studying mass behavior, it gives this evolved soul an ability to anticipate market wants and needs. When asked what was the secret to his success as head of Merrill Lynch in the ‘70s, Donald Regan, Secretary of the Treasury and White House Chief of Staff under Ronald Reagan said, “That’s not a big conversation. It’s one word – anticipation.”

Charles Schwab’s empathy has been particularly powerful because it springs from one of one of mankind’s fundamental drivers – goodness. Schwab puts it this way, “I don’t know what it was that got me to the point of thinking this way, but I felt it was about fairness. I think fairness, and maybe it was my early religious training. I don’t know what it was that sort of instilled in me this sense of fairness, a sense of values. A sense that there is a human behind every business and it has to be the more you are more human, the more you can relate to your customer. And the more you relate to your customer, and where you are going to create and derive new services and relationships that will enhance your organization.”

Schwab’s empathetic (or empathic) powers have made him prescient as he repeatedly shook up the clubby world of Wall Street. He led the effort to cut brokerage commissions and he was the fist to offer:

– 24-hour telephone access
– online trading
– mutual funds other than his own

    And in late 2009, he has launched four ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) charging no brokerage fees. “My vision happens to be that every American is an investor for their long-term assets, their retirement assets. They’ll get better returns. They’ll have better incomes. They’ll have more choices when they get older. They will have more choices while they are going through their life cycle. Whether it’s choices for the kids through education, choices for a second home or first home, whatever it might be. It is all about having where-with-all, financial where-with-all to have these choices as we go through life’s wonderful opportunities.”

    Abraham Maslow called this trait an “identification with all humanity” and wrote that the best among us, “have a a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection for human beings in general. They feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family, ” because of this, he wrote they, “have a genuine desire to help the human race.”

    That’s exactly the desire that Schwab articulates. It’s exactly the quality that has also made him one of the most trusted pitch-men in the history of advertising. In the world of TV personalities and pitchmen, there is a something called a “Q” rating for likeability and even trustworthiness. Schwab’s Q rating is sky high. Most CEOs, indeed most company founders and even professional sales leaders are not nearly as well liked or as successful at gaining their customers’ trust.

    Identifying with all humanity, having a kind of global empathy is a personality trait well worth developing beyond the riches it may help you achieve. But beware, it will make you dutiful — taking on responsibilities large… and small. My step grand-mother “Nan” would pick up litter. This was a woman who was waited on hand and foot and yet she felt no qualms about picking up discarded dirty napkins at many a grand-child’s graduation. Those who are empathic towards others are outwardly focused, problem-focused, not self-focused. Indeed, the most highly evolved human beings identify with others outside their cultures, beyond their generations, they even have empathy for for animals and the environment.

    Healthy psyches are not focused on themselves. They don’t divert every conversation to their needs, wants and problems. They are focused on others and more specifically about helping others and solving their problems. Remember, your grand-mother’s counsel not to talk too much about yourself. It’s good manners and it’s a good indicator of mental health to see how much someone dwells on themself.

    Here is where you’re newly heightened awareness and better reality recognition are going to be very valuable. Listen closely to what those around you talk about. Watch carefully how they behave when an opportunity to help out arises. When you tell a story about some event or about someone, see if the person to whom you’re talking relates it back to themselves. When it comes to actions, notice those who make an effort when they don’t have to, as Nan did.

    Surround yourself with those who care about others and who do positive things for the greater good. It will make you a better (and maybe even richer!) person.

    Cheers from Sonoma,


    About the author

    Donald Van de Mark
    Donald Van de Mark is the author of The Good Among the Great: 19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative and Joyous People.

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