Over the years, I’ve observed that there is a common set of behaviors that is part of what makes people successful in business that I think of as the rules of service. The most successful companies actual incorporate these rules into their corporate culture.

Here they are:

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network (business)

These are very much part of the western culture, and parts of these are taught to us as we are growing up. For me though, there were subtleties in these rules that took me years to learn, and I’m still learning to apply.

Let’s look at the rules in more detail, starting with the last one.

Rule #3 – You are the most important customer in your network

This one is a subtle part of the golden rule that I misunderstood for a long time. There is a great deal of teaching about sacrifice and serving others, which can be mistakenly incorporated into our values as putting others ahead of ourselves.

Large organizations instill self-improvement into their workers as a way to make them more valuable, and therefore make the organization more successful (e.g. – “Be all that you can be” – U.S. Army).

The problem with this approach of being completely selfless, is that we are missing out on the opportunity to give the greatest gift we have: ourselves.

What I mean by this rule, is that you need to care for yourself before you can care for others. If you don’t remember to breathe, eat, and sleep, you will have nothing to give. If you truly want to be of service, you must instead be the best that you can be.

God grants us all special gifts, our gift back to God is what we do with those gifts. By making yourself the most important customer, you make the choice to make sure your needs are met in order to share those gifts with the world. This is not being selfish, this is the truest way to be of service.

This is so eloquently expressed in the following quote by Marianne Williamson (often attributed to Nelson Mandela):

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Look at that last line again: As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

By becoming all that we can be, we liberate others to do the same, thereby improving the universe in ways we cannot imagine. We not only serve ourselves, we give others the ability to serve, and to find their true selves.

Rule #2 – Your network (business) is your first customer

As people, we need help from others in order to do most things of importance in our lives. First we became tribes, banding together in small groups to survive. Then we formed communities, which allowed for a people to begin to explore their special skills. Eventually, we formed companies, which were in essence a more specialized community: join together people with different skills in order to accomplish a common goal.

You’ll notice that I changed this rule to say “network” and placed “business” in parentheses, because I fell we’re in the midst of a return to a more community based way of interacting. People band together in a network, which allows them to accomplish things in a much broader way than simply being members of the same town or company would.

Many of the most successful corporations have incorporated this rule into how they do business. They educate their employees on the importance of treating co-workers as the most important customer.

Why do they do this ? For the same reason that you put yourself first: if the company can’t function well, they cannot serve their customers, and they will go out of business.

By understanding that the people in your network are your most important customers, you strengthen that network. By helping people in that network, you effectively serve not only that network, but all of the people served by that network.

I may have a hundred customers that I can serve one at a time. If I come up with a way to better serve those customers, I can do so one at a time. But imagine if I share that same method with my network. Now not only do I serve my hundred customers, I multiply that by serving their customers too.

From my experience this is an accelerating process: the stronger my network becomes, the more valuable it becomes to everybody in it, and the more effective we all become. Finally lessons on sharing from kindergarten really pay off !

Rule #1 – The customer always comes first

This is the one we all know and is the most obvious. It doesn’t mean that we should do whatever the customer wants at the expense of the network/company or ourselves. It means, that in order to provide a service, we need somebody to provide that service to.

You have to have a customer, and by following the rules, you will be able to serve them with your unique talents coupled with the strength, skills and support of your network. This is also a twist on the golden rule: in order to put the customer first, you have to treat them as you would treat yourself (remember rule #3?).

By helping the customer be successful, you not only help them to continue to be your customer, you also allow them to help you be more successful. Their success improves the success of your network, and helps your network’s to improve their ability to make their own customers successful.

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” – I am the Walrus, The Beatles