At a Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting over a decade ago, Warren Buffett tells a 14-year-old kid a success lesson that was meant for all of us.
On May 1, 2004, Berkshire Hathaway held its annual meeting in Omaha, Nebraska, where nearly 20,000 people attended this annual ritual.
As reporter Jason Zweig tells it, its chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett, was fielding questions from people in the audience.
Among them, a 14-year-old from California, Justin Fong, asked a non-investment question that elicited a great response from the billionaire Buffett.
The question? What advice would Buffett give a young person like Fong on how to be successful.
Buffett’s response, one could debate, may have been geared toward a teenager. Upon closer inspection, a person of every age in whatever stage of life will surely benefit from it, especially as it relates to business and career development. Buffett said:
It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.
Then, Charlie Munger, Buffett’s longtime partner and vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, piped in, “If this gives you a little temporary unpopularity with your peer group, the hell with ’em.”
Better than you at what, exactly?
Buffett wasn’t merely telling a teenager to stay away from bullies or the kid smoking pot in the back of the school. He’s teaching a life lesson for all of us about absorbing the very qualities and traits of successful people further down the path than you — the ones whom have demonstrated the people skills and character traits that will elevate us and make us better as leaders, workers, and human beings.
In growing your influence as a leader, business owner, or professional so others will gravitate to your inner circle, there are four things that you want to look for in people better than you, so you can “drift in that direction.”
1. Hang out with people that have integrity.
Integrity is so crucial for success, Buffett once said that you should never hire someone without it, no matter how smart they are. He said: “You’re looking for three things, generally, in a person: intelligence, energy, and integrity. And if they don’t have the last one, don’t even bother with the first two.” People operating with integrity can be trusted; you never have to worry about their actions, or whether they’re hiding anything from anyone.
2. Hang out with intentionally focused people that know when to say ‘no.’
Buffett learned a long time ago that the greatest commodity of all is time. He simply mastered the art and practice of setting boundaries for himself. That’s why this other Buffett quote remains a powerful life lesson: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Buffett’s advice is a bull’s-eye to our conscience. We have to know what to shoot for to focus and simplify our lives. It means saying no over and over again to the unimportant things flying in our direction every day and remaining focused on saying yes to the few things that truly matter.
3. Hang out with people that feed their minds by reading.
Want to increase your knowledge ten-fold? Buffett and Munger credit their success to the fact they are learning machines. So, instead of coming home, sitting on the couch, and binge-watching a whole season of Mad Men or Game of Thrones, pick up a book. Buffett estimates that he spends 80 percent of his working day reading and thinking. When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said he “read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”
4. Hang out with people that are legitimately loved by others.
As depicted in Buffett’s biography, “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life,” Buffett once was asked by Georgia Tech students about his greatest success and greatest failure, to which he responded: “When you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.” He adds, “I know people who have a lot of money … but the truth is that nobody in the world loves them….that’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life.” Buffett nails it with one final statement on the secret to being loved: “The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it … The only way to get love is to be lovable … The more you give love away, the more you get.”
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