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A Message from Our President


Dear Friends,

This past weekend, I had the honor of addressing some 650 attendees at TEDxSanAntonio. For those who may not be familiar with TEDx San Antonio, it is an offshoot of the international TED conference, founded in 1984 for the single purpose of spreading ideas. The acronym stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The TEDx program gives communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialog through TED-like experiences at the local level. TEDxSanAntonio is planned and coordinated independently.

Being part of this program had special meaning to me because, while Interim President & CEO of National Public Radio in Washington D.C., I played a role in creating the TED Radio Hour (which airs on TPR stations at 4 a.m. Saturdays and noon Sundays). So, for the sixth TEDx San Antonio, where the theme was “You Think You Know,” I decided to go big and share the Secret of Success. Following is the text from that talk:


There are hundreds of books on how to be successful, but the true secret to success can be summed up in just two words. Be nice.

Looking back, every opportunity of any significance that I have had has come to me because I was nice to someone.

What do I mean by “nice”?

Some people transmogrify it to “kind.” I say, “Being nice is the key to success,” and they say, “Yes, it’s important to be kind.” And while it is important to be kind, that isn’t the same as “nice.” Kind suggests a sort of superiority – we are kind to the disadvantaged, or to children, or to animals. We bestow our kindnesses.

“Nice” does not mean “doormat.”  Set boundaries – in a nice way. Let an underperforming employee go – in a nice way. In fact, if you have an employee who’s shown that they can’t be successful in their job, the nice thing to do is to let them go so they can find a place where they can be a success.

Be a tough negotiator, but be nice. Someone with whom I’ve negotiated many deals once described me as “tough but fair.”  He went on to say, “She’s always looking for creative ways to make it work for both parties." That’s being nice.

Being nice is an exchange between equals – neither benevolent nor obsequious. It’s recognizing the other person’s humanity, being empathetic and engaging in an authentic way. It’s. . . treating the other person as you would like to be treated.

Sound familiar? Okay, so – this idea of being nice is not my original work. Commonly known as the Golden Rule, it’s found in the scriptures of almost every religion.

            Hinduism:  "One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated."

            Zoroastrianism:  "Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto others."

            Buddhism:  "Hurt not others with that which pains yourself."

Some are even more emphatic.

When Confucius was asked if there is one word that can serve as the principle of conduct in life, he replied, “It is the word 'shu' -- reciprocity. Do not impose on others what you yourself do not desire."

When a man challenged Hillel – one of the greatest leaders in Jewish history - to teach him the whole Torah while he stood on one foot, Hillel said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; all the rest of it is commentary . . .."

And asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. A second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets."

Being nice is some powerful ju-ju.

My life story is filled with examples of the power of being nice.

Traveling to the interviews for my first legal job, I was sitting next to a guy in jeans and boots. On learning the purpose of my trip, he shared that he was a lawyer. He told me in broad terms about his practice and asked me a lot of questions. He inquired why I had gone to St. Louis University Law School – a good school, but not one of the top. I told him they had given me a great scholarship and a great education.  As we parted ways, he asked for a copy of my resume. Turns out, he was the head of the recruiting committee for one of the largest and most prestigious firms in Dallas, where I was soon privileged to start my career. He told me some years later that the firm badly needed someone who “didn’t have her nose in the air.”

Fast forward to 1994. My job required lots of travel, and I frequently rode to and from the airport with a car service driver named David. During that era, Barney the dinosaur was the Elvis of the pre-school set, and David was excited about the fact that he also frequently drove the “Barney people.” He really liked them – especially Barney’s creator, Sheryl Leach. I listened to David’s stories and also regularly asked after his family and always thanked him for his help. Several months after I met David, he told me that the Barney people were going to hire a lawyer, and they were having him pick up candidates for the job from New York and LA.  He said they were all rude and mean to him. A few weeks after that, I got a call from Sheryl Leach.  Apparently, David had been telling her about me, as well. And it was through that connection – a car service driver that I was nice to - that I became Barney’s lawyer.

One final one. In the midst of my tenure at National Public Radio, I was asked to step in as Interim President & CEO at a time of crisis for the organization. Soon after, I got a call of both congratulations and condolences from someone I had worked with years prior, and whom I had helped after he launched a non-profit that had a great mission, but struggled financially. He told me about his new job, helping another non-profit develop strategic partnerships. We agreed that there might be something NPR and his new organization could do together. I took an NPR producer and went to meet with him and his team, and the amazing potential quickly became clear. And that is how NPR and TED first came together to create the TED Radio Hour.

Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t have had those opportunities had I not been well qualified. But despite my qualifications, I wouldn’t have had those opportunities had I not also been nice to someone.

Be nice. Be nice to everyone – the unassuming guy on the plane, the Uber driver, the friend who is struggling a bit. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

That is the whole Torah.  And the true secret to success.