Why helping others helps your own career

JetBlue's chair makes his case for putting others first

The key to professional success is to be invested in the success of other people, argues Joel Peterson, chair of JetBlue Airways in an article for LinkedIn.

Peterson learned his first lesson about the value of kindness at his first job working for Trammell Crow and his eponymous real estate company. Employees of the company were invested in Crow's success primarily because they felt he was invested in theirs as well.

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"Trammell figured out that there's genius in emotional intelligence, just as there is with intellectual intelligence," Peterson writes. By being attuned to the emotional needs of others, leaders can make a personal impact on other people and cultivate tomorrow's thoughtful, strategic leaders.

"Today, the entire real estate industry is filled with former Crow partners selected by Trammell for their people skills," he notes.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence share several traits, according to Peterson:

  • They like teamwork: Leaders with strong personal agendas, poor listening skills, or combative tendencies can often drown others out. Individuals with these qualities can have a hard time succeeding because they end up with a small "cheering section" invested in their success.
  • They are self-confident, but not brash: Quieter, more reserved individuals may not be the most obviously self-confident, but sometimes their quiet natures hide their ability to be thoughtful and patient under stress. "So don't confuse outward confidence with inner strength—they can be inversely proportional," he argues.
  • They are strategic thinkers: When people can see the long-term consequences of decisions, they tend to be less self-interested, Peterson says. As a result, "They also make decisions with an enlightened self-interest that takes into account others' perspectives," he writes.
  • They are kind to others: In taking a moment to provide emotional support to others, leaders who are kind create feelings of goodwill and make a positive impact on people's lives.
  • They are not transactional: Peterson says the truly successful are willing to act without receiving anything in return. They "love to win, but... have the emotional intelligence to want others to win, too," he writes.

Ultimately, Peterson argues, people who are willing to put others first reduce the risk that maleficence will come back to hurt them. To illustrate his point, Peterson refers to a quote by motivational speaker Harry Ziglar: "You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want" (Peterson, LinkedIn, 2/16).

The takeaway: Putting other people's emotional needs first is a good leadership trait because it builds strong teams, encourages strategic thinking, and ultimately helps leaders themselves succeed, argues Joel Peterson, chair of JetBlue Airways.

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