In one of his most famous speeches, Martin Luther King, Jr. points out that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are given a new definition of greatness. In that story, a guy who has been beaten up and left by the side of the road for dead needs help. Several accomplished and so-called “great” people pass him by. They are well-known and apparently lauded for their status and accomplishments, but they are jerks.

Then, this one guy — a less-accomplished Samaritan — stops and helps the injured man. He gets off his donkey (in the King James Bible, he literally gets off his ass), crouches down into the ditch, bandages his wounds, and even pays for his recovery.

Everyone can be great because everyone can serve. Tweet This Quote

Dr. King points out that the cool thing about this new definition of greatness is that everyone can be great because everyone can serve. Everyone can get off their asses and sink into the ditch. Before that, the definition of greatness was exclusive; it was a competition, and only one superlative person could emerge as the best and most talented. This story flips that definition on its head.

In addition to MLK, people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela all flouted conventional wisdom and unwaveringly chose this route to greatness. We call them good or great now, not only because of their brilliance or intellect, but more so because they chose to humbly serve in unexpected ways.

Surrounding ourselves with good people does not just mean smart people. Obviously, we want to fill our teams with clever individuals — that goes without saying. But too much is made of finding so-called smart people. Actually, they’re not that hard to find.

Surrounding ourselves with good people does not just mean smart people. Tweet This Quote

It’s more difficult to find smart people who aren’t jerks. To us at MANA Nutrition, hiring great people means searching for (smart) teammates who aren’t jerks, which means possessing a high-degree of self-awareness. Of course, it’s inevitable that from time to time, all of us will act like jerks. But when this happens, we know to admit it, apologize, and actively work to be less of a jerk in the future. This requires a certain amount of humility and cognizance that can too often elude smart people.

At this point, what would be most helpful would be for me to provide you with a foolproof way to filter out the jerks. Maybe a list of questions we ask or things we do during our hiring process. Maybe things we look for like demeanor or clever quiz questions that can trip up or suss out a jerk before he or she ever sneaks in.

We do have a few things we tout in our “Mana-festo” — our company’s guiding document, which reminds us what we hope to accomplish together and that how we go about it matters greatly. It has three identity points or “we are” statements:

  1. We are the Mana Village, a community that just happens to be a company.
  2. We are not jerks. Don’t be a jerk. One jerk ruins everything. Be humble, treat others with respect and kindness, and be self aware and eager to learn.
  3. We are the “they.” Don’t say “they” should do this or that — only we. We are not here to “save” starving kids because “they” need us. We don’t blame others, but rather take action ourselves.

If we surround ourselves with good people who aspire to this definition of greatness, we will be unstoppable. Tweet This Quote

The truth is, we don’t have a foolproof way to be jerk-proof. To be honest, of our 60 employees, the vast majority are people who didn’t go to college or don’t even have a resume. What’s interesting to us is that the hiring process for our factory floor workers is really not all that different than hiring for our tech startup, Calorie Cloud, which now has nearly 20 employees.

For both entities, no matter if the new teammate falls under the traditional definition of blue collar or white collar, we do our best to answer this one question after all resumes or references have been sorted and screened: What if some day, I look up and I see this guy or gal standing in my office door? Will I be happy to see this person?

Seriously. I’m not talking about “happy” because I like them, they are just like me, or they might be my best friend. Instead, am I happy to see them because I know they have a great attitude and want to solve problems regardless of receiving the credit? Are they willing to get off their donkey, get down in the ditch, and help us solve hard problems?

Hiring great people means searching for (smart) teammates who aren’t jerks. Tweet This Quote

If some of the greatest human beings of the 20th century can lead and change the world using this “not-a-jerk” mentality, then maybe our small startups and entrepreneurial efforts in this era can thrive by adding teammates committed to the same modus operandi for affecting change.

If we surround ourselves with good people who aspire to this definition of greatness, we — like King, Mandela, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa — will be unstoppable.