Think of the exceptional leaders you know. Would you call them givers or takers?
My guess is that you said givers. Adam Grant would agree with you. He is the author of my new favorite book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.
Adam divides the leadership world into three camps: Givers, Takers, and Matchers. Here are the two important things to know:
- To be an excellent leader you need to be a giver or a matcher.
- Givers need to be aware of boundaries to prevent burnout.
How to spot them:
People differ in their preferences for reciprocity. Most of us are not pure types, but a combination of these three:
- Givers put other people first. They look for opportunities to help others without any strings attached. They prefer to be on the contributing end of an interaction.
- Takers try to get as much as possible out of any interaction while contributing as little as possible in return. They think it is the shortest and most direct path to achieving their own goals.
- Matchers try to balance giving and taking. They are more generous than takers but also protect their own interests. If they help you, they expect you to help them in return. They keep score, so that things stay fair.
Interestingly, on the success scale, givers land at the bottom and the top. Givers who put other people first often are at risk of burnout and / or exploitation by takers, causing them to sink to the bottom; however, their habit of putting others first endears them to clients, superiors, and subordinates, causing them ultimately to rise to the top.
Takers, conversely, sometimes win in the short term, but they can alienate people along the way and inadvertently cut short their success. For example, Jonas Salk, who discovered and commercialized a polio vaccine, didn’t give credit to people who helped his discoveries. As a result, his team fractured, and Salk never made another discovery nearly as influential.
Givers, on the other hand, believe that sharing credit with others doesn’t take away from their own contribution, making it easier to maintain a team over time.
Matchers, with their innate sense of justice, will help and support givers because they want to see them rewarded for their generosity, and they can’t stand to see takers win through exploitation.
Key leadership strategies
- Find the Diamond in the Rough: Adam shared that amazing leaders build a team by focusing not just on top performers, as most people assume. Instead, they see everyone as a diamond in the rough and offer them resources to bring out the best in each individual so that they are motivated to work harder. The leader believes in them and helps them set high goals to see the greatest progress.
- Do the Five Minute Favor: Givers must learn to protect themselves from over giving. I hear nearly every day from talented clients who have stopped giving because their schedules are so out of control. Rather than going to that extreme (which will not be a happy place because givers truly want and need to give), here is my favorite strategy from Adam’s book and the key to successful giving without burnout: Instead of helping everyone all the time, ask yourself at each giving opportunity, “What unique value can I offer this person that will take five minutes or less of my time?” Then do it.
I tried this recently with someone who called me when I was not available for career coaching. I spent 5 minutes on the phone suggesting a couple of strategies she could pursue to help her make decisions. At the end of the conversation, we both felt good.
Currently, there are coaches who teach leaders to ignore certain levels of communication as not being worth their time. I disagree with this. Email certainly needs to be managed so that it doesn’t consume your day, but there are ways to do this without deleting large chunks of communication.
For example, a Senior Director in the consumer products industry told me as she moves up in her career, she is having more difficulty responding to the increased number of emails she receives. Simply not responding will affect her leadership negatively. As a leader, she needs to take 5 minutes to respond to each email, even if it is just to schedule time later. Leadership doesn’t mean solving everyone’s problems, but it does mean having the integrity to respond.
Leaders who give without boundaries are heading for burnout. That is the danger in giving, but givers can make giving safe and stay resilient by determining and focusing on the type of giving they find most energizing.
The world needs givers, and givers need to give, even when challenged by business, social, political, or economic circumstances. Allowing yourself to be consumed will only end your career early. It is more important to learn how to stay resilient so you can give for the long term.
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