From The Good Among the Great: 19 Traits of the Most Admirable, Creative and Joyous People (April 2011).

I was a newsman. Like all news people, I had a beat—a territory I covered. Mine was people who are megasuccessful.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of leaders on the national and international scene, individuals who have reached “the top of the top” in fields ranging from business and politics to medicine and the performing arts. I’ve profiled polar explorers and business titans, politicians and popular authors, everyone from holistic medicine pioneer Andrew Weil to “CEO of the Century” Jack Welch.

Everybody knows what these people have accomplished; there’s no news there. What I did was find out how they think and make choices so that I can decipher how their minds and hearts work, how and why they are so successful.

After more than twenty years of studying the best and most celebrated, I’ve learned that not all of these newsmakers are exemplary human beings. Most are okay; many are obsessed and ruthless, and some are even miserable. Many are feared, if not hated—not only by their competitors but also by their associates and staffs. They care little about the plight of others and the world at large.

Among the world’s megasuccesses, however, is another group. This small minority is exceedingly aware, egalitarian, empathic, decent, and happy. Their associates and staffs love them; their competitors respect them. These people care deeply about others and often use their positions to help the larger community.

The high achievers who are also great human beings are part of an elusive subset. They usually don’t seek the limelight, even though they’re often in it. Unlike the fleeting success of many celebrities, their achievements endure as the world changes.

They are often immensely successful, but their goals and achievements are usually beyond “success” narrowly defined.

These people are the good among the great, and as different as they each are, they share certain personality traits.

While interviewing a series of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, I heard similar attitudes and began to recognize patterns of behavior. I often heard variations of the same comments about what motivates them, how they think and behave, why they do what they do, why they don’t make common mistakes, and why they often forfeit short-term gains. I began listing personality traits and private strategies that I heard echoed by all these “good guys.” It reminded me of what Tolstoy wrote: “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The good, grounded, big-hearted people resembled each other, and they were happy to tell me how they got that way.

I also realized that big-name successes aren’t the only ones that belong in this select group. These prominent characters reminded me of some of the best people I’ve known since childhood. Some of my lifelong acquaintances, particularly from this summer colony on a beautiful lake in Canada, are also remarkably successful. But most of them lead quiet, private lives. You probably know some wonderful, uncelebrated characters too. I’m lucky enough to have known several families who seem to hand down good, strong personality traits from generation to generation. These families rear sweet children, responsible teenagers, and capable, wise adults. They often run important organizations while heading their own rambunctious families. A number are making new fortunes as well.

This book is about the hows and whys of admirable, creative and joyous people, with true stories about them and the personality traits that make them so. If you’re looking for a step-by-step outline of how to make your first million, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a guide to being of service to others, creative, joyous and materially successful, read on. Being a big winner in life isn’t just about making money or even just accomplishing your goals.

As I share the following true stories, I’ll draw upon the wisdom of the late, great twentieth-century psychologist Abraham Maslow. Often known as the father of positive psychology, Maslow is best known for his hierarchy of human needs. What most people don’t know about Maslow is that he also studied those who keep evolving beyond their own needs.

In his later years, Maslow studied peak human beings—those whom he called “self-actualizing” individuals—a group he believed made up just 1 percent of the general population. Unfortunately, his theories on what made these people exceptional never made their way into popular parlance. But he did outline nineteen specific personality traits. In my interviews with the super successful, I found that the dominant personality characteristics of the true-blue, good minority were very similar to the nineteen traits Maslow identified. This book in many ways proves Maslow’s thinking. Maslow’s seminal work, plus ideas from former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, Professor Joseph Campbell, Rev. R. Maurice Boyd, Dr. Andrew Weil, and many others provide the theoretical and philosophical underpinnings for this book, which is divided into nineteen chapters, one per trait.

The book is also organized into four parts. Part 1 focuses on the development of a whole, true self and the traits that pertain to being an autonomous, ethical, and loving individual. This section is particularly relevant to children. We look at ways you can resist the zeitgeist, gain some detachment from your own thoughts, and prize your solitude.

In Part 2 the focus is outward. The organizing principle for this section is “assessing the world clearly and efficiently.” I’ll share stories of how great people better understand others and events, so much so that they’re often prescient about the future. These individuals are open to new experiences and have a sense of calm, even when faced with risk and the unknown. We’ll also examine how the best human beings are not just interested in their own performance or results; they also “delight in the doing.”

In Part 3 you’ll learn how strong, happy individuals care about and interact with others. For many reasons, these souls are egalitarian, have high empathy for others, and feel duty-bound to work for the benefit of all.

Part 4 outlines your personal payoff when you develop these personality traits: you can be more creative and more appreciative of your day-to-day life as well as more spontaneous, expressive, and joyful. We’ll look at the histories of several admirable individuals and their propensity to have more transcendent, even mystical moments, or what Maslow called “peak” experiences, than the rest of us.

I wrote this book because I feel compelled to report an overarching conclusion—that there is a list of traits that we can identify in the good among the great and that most of us can develop these traits within ourselves. Personal evolution doesn’t happen overnight and the most effective way to become a better, stronger human being is to surround yourself with healthy personalities. The first step in bringing these good souls into your orbit is knowing whom and what to look for, and that’s where this book comes in.

Finally, in an age racked with catastrophes born of greed and self-aggrandizement, finding and promoting leaders who are fundamentally good people may be critical to preserving free markets, individual liberty and promoting the American way globally.

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