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Ideas in the Wild: Jonathan Keyser on why selflessness can be a key to success

When Jonathan Keyser entered the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world of commercial real estate brokerage, he became the worst version of himself and hated himself because of it. Then one day, Jonathan decided he’d had enough. He realized he was sacrificing his values in pursuit of success, and that he needed to stop. He abandoned his ruthless […]

When Jonathan Keyser entered the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world of commercial real estate brokerage, he became the worst version of himself and hated himself because of it.

Then one day, Jonathan decided he’d had enough. He realized he was sacrificing his values in pursuit of success, and that he needed to stop. He abandoned his ruthless ways and reinvented himself as a selfless leader, which skyrocketed his brokerage firm to eight figures.

Jonathan wrote his new book, You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win: The Art of Badass Selfless Service, to show leaders in every industry that being selfless is not a weakness — it’s actually your ticket to success. I caught up with Jonathan to see what inspired him to write the book, his favorite idea that he shared, and how the lessons in his book changed his life.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

I never thought of myself as an author. I didn’t think I was capable of writing a book. One day, about seven years ago, I was in a coaching session when my coach said, “You have an interesting story that I think would inspire other people. You should write a book.”

My first response was, “I don’t know anything about writing a book. I mean, what would I even write about?” He said, “Your story.” And I said, “Who’s going to care about that?”

“Think about it,” he said. “Think about what you’ve done and how you’ve changed and what you’re focused on doing in the future. Your journey is inspirational. Plus, if you’re going to build a company, a book is something you want to have. It’s something that can show people your vision and what you see as a future state for the business world.”

So that’s where it started. I realized in that moment that I could write a book… but I still didn’t know how! My coach set me up with some people who came alongside me and helped me during the book-writing process. It was a long, painful process filled with plenty of starts and stops. It took a long time and a lot of people helping me to get it right, but I finally feel like I got exactly what I wanted the book to be out in print and I’m very excited and proud of it.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

The theme of the book is creating success through service. In the book, I show people how to serve others in a way that creates value. What does it look like to actually selflessly serve? It sounds good in theory, but how do you actually do it and how do you actually become someone who can create success through service? We have lots of ideas in the book, and different levels of self-reinvention, but everything ties back to this idea of creating success through service.

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?

Before I became a selfless leader, I was a ruthless prick who did whatever it took to be successful. I thought that’s what it took to be successful, especially in a ruthless industry like commercial real estate brokerage. Since making the changes that I outline for people in the book, I’ve become a selfless leader who heads up the largest firm of our kind in the state of Arizona. We’re an Inc. 500 company that’s one of the most successful and fast-growing firms in the country. I never would’ve written my book had I not transformed my life, but because I did, I was capable of writing a book that hit Wall Street Journal bestseller number one, and was an Amazon bestseller that hit number one in seven different categories.

This success is not because of me — it’s because of the principles that I share in the book. I am living proof that you don’t have to be ruthless to win. You can be selfless and successful.

For more advice on becoming a selfless leader, you can find You Don’t Have to Be Ruthless to Win: The Art of Badass Selfless Service on Amazon.

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