If You Don’t Want to Be Ruthless — Then Don’t

Jonathan Keyser believes that he became the worst version of himself as he entered the cutthroat world of commercial real estate brokerage.

After a while, he got tired of it. Why? In the pursuit of success, he started sacrificing his values. Through selfless leadership, he transformed his brokerage firm into an eight-figure company.

According to Jonathan Keyser, anyone can experience resounding success through selfless service, which is the theme of this article and this podcast that you are not going to want to miss.

Being ruthless isn’t necessary to win

While finishing up his time at UCLA, Jonathan was introduced to the world of commercial real estate by a friend. “So, I kind of stumbled into commercial real estate brokerage because I was directionless after my professor talked me out of it,” he reflects. “And as I got in, I realized really quickly, wow, one, this is well suited for my personality, but two, this is a cutthroat, take no prisoners, ruthless environment, like everybody scratching and clawing and fighting their way to the top.”

“So, I became the ruthless shark,” he adds. “I became the guy.” As an overachiever, I became more ruthless than most and succeeded. As an overachiever, I became more ruthless than most and succeeded.” Despite his success, Jonathan was miserable. “I was a very unhappy guy. I was misaligned, as you can imagine, with my core values and how I was raised, but I felt trapped. I didn’t know a different way. I didn’t realize that you could actually do business the right way and be successful.”

His life changed after attending a conference. He heard a speaker explain that success is achieved by helping others succeed, a way to pay it forward within the business community.

“Instead of trying to figure out what you can get from other people, which was my sole focus before — how much can I get? How fast can I get it? Who cares what bodies I leave strewn behind me?” he continues.

“Now I ask different questions of myself. I ask, “How many people can I help? Ask for nothing in return, and over time — it comes back.” So I thought, if this is even possible if one person in the world has done this — I wonder if this can be done in my business? And I made the decision to reinvent myself.”

Jonathan even wrote a best-selling book about this appropriately titled You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win.

The business world does not teach the value of serving others

“For me, what’s so non-revolutionary about all this is that this is not some new concept, right?” Jonathan adds. “If you go back in time and go across all philosophy, all religions, all geographies, there is this basic premise across every culture that is something to the effect of the more you give, the more you get.”

Additionally, helping more leads to receiving more. By helping others achieve, you will achieve more yourself. “And if you really think about it rationally, this is not a new concept even within our culture,” he says. “We all know how to serve. We all know the value of loving other people. We do it where it matters the most. We do with our families. We do with our homes. We do with our very tight circle of friends and in social circles — yet somehow, there’s this disconnect where we think, okay, I know it works.”

Not only does this feel good, but it’s also beneficial. “So, I’m going to do where it matters the most, but then, to support all of this, I have to go out into the world, be a business person, put on my ruthless suit, go to war, look out for number one!” Jonathan states. “Then I come home; I take that ruthless coat off. I go in, and I’d be fun and squishy and soft and loving.”

“And it’s like all I’m saying is if this philosophy is one of the greatest truths of all time — I can’t take credit for it. I didn’t come up with it,” he says. “I was given it. I am simply living it as best I can and trying to teach other people that it’s possible, but if it works where it matters the most, it should be able to work in business.”

These thoughts led to the obvious question of why? What is the reason for its lack of matriculation into business? Despite appearances, people today perform ruthless acts behind words that suggest they aren’t doing that. What prevents it from being practiced at a core level? According to Jonathan, there aren’t enough examples of people doing their work correctly or in a different way. In addition, there aren’t enough people telling the world how they’ve done it or how they got where they are.

And that’s exactly why he wrote his book. “I wanted to provide people with my journey and my experience and take all the things I’ve learned over the last 19 years, reinventing myself and then creating a successful culture around this idea of selfless service and put it into a book where anybody could” read and practice it.

An act of selflessness is an act of self-interest

In its simplest form, selflessness means placing less value on oneself than on others. When you consider other people’s interests more than your own, you are in a state of mind that puts their interests first. A selfless person cares for the needs and feelings of others and tries to show kindness to them.

But, why is selflessness so important? Selfish people experience fluctuating happiness levels, but those who demonstrate selflessness enjoy “authentic, durable happiness,” according to a 2017 study.

There’s more to selflessness than just happiness.

“What if your whole focus was just on them, and you came from a place of pure service? I guarantee you, the opportunities that come out of those relationships are going to be 10x what otherwise would have been,” elaborates Jonathan. “I’m saying success comes from selflessness. I believe that selflessness is actually the most selfish way to operate.”

“Let me say that again — I believe that selflessness is self-interested, right? And so, when you come from that place, wherever you go, it’s amazing what you unlock versus having these sort of artificial conversations that don’t really go anywhere and don’t go deep — conversations that don’t actually provide any value.”

Creating a selfless culture.

How did Jonathan’s “Selfless Service Model” contribute to Keyser’s growth as one of the fastest-growing commercial real estate firms in the country? Well, he suggests creating a selfless culture, or as he calls it, “JK’s Five Keys to Success.”

  • Play the long game. It is common for people to expect immediate results when they serve selflessly. Selfless service, however, does not promise immediate gratification, and it doesn’t promise tomorrow’s reward. In some situations, selfless acts pay off immediately, while in others, it can take years, months, or even decades to pay off. It is never bad to do good for the world, even without benefiting yourself.
  • Self-improvement. The best way to achieve this is by reading books and hiring a coach.  There are seemingly endless resources and ideas available on topics ranging from time management to relationship building to leadership functions. Moreover, hiring a coach allows us to see our own weaknesses and build on them.
  • Be 100% coachable. Critique is not always fun, sometimes it’s not true, and we don’t always want to accept it when it happens. At the same time, we can only discover new ways to improve ourselves if we are coachable and open to criticism.
  • Be fully present. We live in a world full of distractions, making it a challenge for society to devote undivided attention to anything. Being fully present and absorbed in the conversation is the only way we can truly connect and serve each other. Listening and engaging will puzzle their minds because you are showing them that you care about them individuallyListening and engaging will puzzle their minds because you are showing them that you care about them individually.
  • Never punish mistakes. The fear of taking bold, courageous, massive action prevents people from creating value. Instead of being afraid, timid, or looking over their shoulders — you want to unleash your team’s creativity. By encouraging your team to go get ’em in an environment where creativity is unrestricted, you can achieve excellence.

Being a tenant advocate and using tactical strategies

It’s no secret that commercial estate is notoriously cutthroat. But, as I’m sure you know by now, Jonathan has taken a different approach — being a tenant advocate.

In a normalized market, the demand has a high degree of control and buying power, but tenants do not because the deck is stacked against them. In other words, tenants need to be educated as to the importance of commercial real estate investment without them. “And if they’re not leveraging that buying power significantly, then they’re missing opportunities, but we also have a lot of, like you said, tactical tools where traditional landlords, developers, agents, brokers, etc., use these against tenants.”

“One of my favorite tools to use as a tenant advocate, as a tenant broker, is what I call the unfixable flaw,” he explains. “The worst possible thing I could do is call your existing owner and have him, or her think that you want, for example, additional space.”

“You’re already in the building. You already have terms left on the lease. You’re basically a captive tenant at that point, and you are going to get screwed. You have to create competitive market leverage, right? You have to create a narrative where you can maximize your buying power. And the only way that you can do that is to come up with some things about the current building that are less than ideal, things that the owner can’t fix.”

Featured Image Credit: Photo by RODNAE Productions; Pexels; Thank you!

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