Mar 17, 2022 - Economy

What I've learned from Mike Allen and Mister Rogers

Illustration of person in a red cardigan and tie with an Axios logo pattern.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

I’ll never forget asking Mike Allen, my co-founder and co-author,  how he grew kinder as his public prominence — and power — soared, Axios CEO Jim VandeHei writes.

  • "I don't understand how you could not get more humble. It's obvious how much luck and help it took to get me here," he said.

Why it matters: We often celebrate those who break things, invent things or build things with bravado. But I have learned more studying two men of uncommon modesty: Mikey and the late Fred Rogers, a.k.a. Mister Rogers.

  • Mike is a two-time founder, Politico and Axios, and was featured on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as "The Man the White House Wakes Up To."
  • "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" spanned 1,000 episodes — at the time, the longest-running and most popular children's program.  

The two are eerily similar in subtlety and selflessness. Their common gifts do not come easily to most, me included:

  • Authentic humility. There's a total absence of look-at-me, spotlight-seeking you see in others. They position themselves as servants or beneficiaries, not superiors. They both make others feel in conversation like the most important person in the world.
  • Intense interest in others. Both ask so many questions it initially seems like deflection, even insincerity. They're maddeningly private. But then you realize their superpower is wild curiosity about what really makes others tick. Think of all you learn when you're intensely listening.
  • Unusual optimism. I am a skeptic by training, realist by default; Mike always sees the goodness in people and situations. Mister Rogers did the same, usually circling back to the child inside all of us.  
  • Minimalist living. No fancy mansions. No splashy sports cars. Hell, Mike doesn't even have his own car or cable service. He spends more on donuts for Axios colleagues than clothes.
  • Deep faith. Most of the impressive people I meet in life hold deep belief in something beyond themselves. And it shows without saying.

Try it … Fred Rogers had this cheesy if wonderful ritual he would encourage others to do: Close your eyes for one minute and picture all the people who helped you get where you are today.

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🏁 Editor's note: This article appeared first in Axios Finish Line, a new newsletter in the Axios Daily Essentials package.

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