Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The "Little Kindnesses" Matter in Networking

For the holidays, I thought I would share a thought-provoking story about kindness to all, even in the little things, and how it can pay back in ways you could never imagine.

Those of you who know me personally might know that I have a passion for history. A lot of strange and wonderful things have happened in this world, and I sometimes find an event or story from the past has resonance with something that's happening today. That's so with today's story.

One of my favorite books, Paul F. Boller, Jr.'s Presidential Anecdotes, tells a story about William McKinley, a dour-looking man who has a lackluster reputation these days but was a consummate and charming networker in his own time. It was said he could refuse a man a favor but make him a friend for life. Anyway,

One evening President McKinley was having a hard time deciding which of two equally competent men to appoint to an important diplomatic post. Suddenly he recalled an incident that had occurred on a stormy night many years before. He had boarded a streetcar and taken the last empty seat at the rear. At one point an old washerwoman carrying a heavy basket boarded the car, and stood forlorn in the aisle. One of the men whom McKinley was now considering for the post had been sitting right in front of the old lady, but shifted his newspaper in such a way as to seem to not see her. McKinley went down the aisle, picked up the basket of washing, and led the old lady back to his seat. The man with the newspaper, looking down, did not see this. "The candidate never knew," said McKinley's friend Charles G. Dawes, who reported the story, "that this little act of selfishness, or rather this little omission of kindness, had deprived him of that which would have crowned his ambition of a lifetime."

It is the little actions that often mean the most, and the person you least expect might end up being the one who holds the key to your future. In your networking, treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect, not just the people you think can help you.

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