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Trait Spotting on This Week with Generous Billionaires

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ABC's Christiane Amanpoursuccess trait with warren buffett spent an hour with five of the best human beings in America talking about tackling some of our most vexing global problems.  There were many things that were striking about this show, how upbeat it was in the face of all our current gloom and doom, how practical and non-combative these accomplished souls are, how Amanpour seemed perplexed again and again by the generosity and responsibility these five feel for others and perhaps most of all -- was the contrast in quality of thought and intention between these leaders and so many of our elected officials.

The show was This Week, which is typically dedicated to political discussion and debate. But this episode focused on billionaires who have pledged to give more than half of their many billions to tackle the toughest problems we face. Four of the five are familiar faces: Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and Ted Turner.  The fifth was Tom Steyer, a hedge fund mogul and founder of San Francisco-based Farallon Capital. 

Amanpour opened the show by focusing on the current squabble over whether to keep or abandon George W. Bush's tax cuts. And surprise number one :all five think it ought to go.  Their reasoning is simple.  They say that they and the economy can afford it. Buffett says that he pays the lowest (combined income and payroll) tax rate among all the people in his office, less than 17 percent.

All five self-made billionaires also reject passing great wealth to their children.  Bill Gates said children ought to "develop their own" identities. Paradoxically, these highly talented and accomplished individuals are egalitarians, one of the traits of the most admirable people.  Each talked about trying to help the most people they can, regardless of race, sex and location. 

Ironically, each of these value creators tied inheritance to worth and worthiness.  Steyer said that he and his wife, Kat, "want to leave our kids a different kind of inheritance, an example of at least trying to lead a worthy life."  Ted Turner said that his offspring are "not necessarily more worthy than anyone else."

But it was their sense of obligation, even duty to the wider community that really exposes them as good souls among great achievers.  This is the trait of being dutiful.  As the late, great psychologist, Abraham Maslow wrote, the best among us "feel kinship and connection, as if all people were members of a single family." Because of this, they "have a genuine desire to help the human race." Because of their clout, each is tackling big problems: nuclear disarmament, vaccines for poor children all over the world, raising education standards across America and more. Tom Steyer said simply that he wanted to be "a good citizen" and "I take a lot of pride in being part of my community."

Bug-eyed and fast talking, Steyer was evidently nervous.  A private man, his exposure was uncomfortable for him.  Here is the twelfth trait - private. The good among the great prize their privacy.  For many reasons, they do not seek the spotlight and only do so to accomplish some goal. One reason they avoid media attention is that they are more integrated, the eighteenth trait.  And they are more spontaneous and less guarded than the rest of us. This is the ninth trait, in a word, exuberant.  And because of it, they can expose more than they would prefer. Steyer did just that.

When Amanpour recited the argument made by many Republicans, that the rich have earned their money and should not have to give up the Bush tax cuts, Steyer countered that the rich owe something to a society that fosters their wealth. "I think anyone who doesn't give credit to the system that they are born into is taking an awful lot onto themselves.  I mean I really think that people have sacrificed a lot more than a little tax money to make that system available for all of us.  And I would be ashamed of myself if I didn't give some credit to them."  At this point, Steyer who is known as a cool and controlled business leader, choked up.  Whatever thought made him emotional at that point was evident in his eyes and voice.  

billionaires giving back videoBest of all from these interviews was the upbeat determination of these five strong people.  They are chipping away at the big problems that face us.  Ted Turner gave money when the U.S. government couldn?t afford to have dangerous nuclear fuel removed from Serbia.  Bypassing the education reform standoff among politicians, Bill and Melinda Gates are giving teachers the tools they need to improve their skills.  Buffett and his children are tackling the toughest problems in family planning and the environment.  Tom and Kat Steyer have launched a not-for-profit community bank to lend to those who would not otherwise get loans.

Amanpour is an excellent journalist and this show proved it again.  Yet, it was striking to me how little even our best reporters believe or understand that the good among the great people are busy accomplishing selfless goals even now.  She ended her program by asking the elder leaders, Buffett and Turner about their desired legacies. Each metaphorically shrugged with answers that were short, practical and obvious, "I want to do the most intelligent job I can, that has the greatest impact on improving the most people's lives," said Buffett.  And "I'm hungry for success of the human race and America and all my friends all over the world" said Turner.  Good and great!

Check out Donald Van De Mark's series on the 19 Personality Traits of the Best Human Beings

Donald Van de Mark is a motivational speaker and has interviewed hundreds of leaders in business and politics including: Andrew Weil, MD, former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley, Jack Welch, Starbucks' Howard Schultz and Intel's Andy Grove, in his nearly 3 decades as a correspondent and anchor at CNN, CNBC and public television. He is the host of The Wisdom of Caring Leaders and The Wisdom of Teams, training videos used by corporations and schools to teach leadership skills.

Donald integrates practical tips from these great leaders to provide a riveting motivational speech on the personality traits of successful people.

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Donald Van de Mark is a speaker and author of, The Good Among the Great. He is the voice and talent on many of Success Television's videos. He has interviewed hundreds of leaders in business and politics including: Jack Welch, Starbucks' Howard Schultz, Intel's Andy Grove, in his nearly 3 decades as a correspondent and anchor at CNN, CNBC and public television. He integrates tips from these great leaders to provide a riveting motivational speech on the traits of successful people.

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