Leading With Generosity & Gratitude

December 4th, 2019

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“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”

– Winston Churchill

In the giving spirit of the festive season, December is a particularly poignant time of year time to reflect on how we as leaders can demonstrate generosity, not only now, but all year round.

Leading with generosity goes hand in hand with generous leadership principles, and recently, David DeSteno, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership wrote an article that appeared in The New York Times on the positive effect of gratitude during Thanksgiving. His premise could be applied to our life and work all year round, however. While holidays such as Christmas prompt and instill a sense of gratitude he says: “Yet on the other 364 days of the year — the ones when you might feel lonely, stressed at work, tempted to dishonesty or stinginess — pausing to cultivate a sense of gratitude can make a big difference. Gratitude may not be needed on Thanksgiving, but giving thanks on other days can help ensure that in the future, you’ll have many things to be grateful for.

When we think of generosity, we often think of financial giving or involvement in charitable work. It may be exercised regularly through corporate social responsibility initiatives, and your businesses core values. However, we don’t naturally think of it in terms of business dealings or in what we do in our day-to-day jobs. Typically it is equated with what we do outside of business hours rather than what we do in them. What charities, community projects or family and friend endeavours we choose to give to financially or with our time.

Make no mistake, these endeavours are all noble and worthy acts of generosity and ones that we should seek out. However, overlooking the ways we can give generously through what we do and how we lead is not only a missed opportunity to leave our world in a better place but can be self-limiting to our own levels of fulfillment and future growth as well as to those in our teams.

Whilst true generosity is ultimately an altruistic act we more often than not receive things in return – and often abundantly. As leaders, this could transpire in the form of increased cooperation and collaboration, enjoyment in what we do, sheer goodwill and/or the fulfillment of seeing others succeed. Not to mention increased productivity and profitability.

If you were to take a moment to reflect on the colleagues and leaders who have left a positive mark on you and your career there would invariably be a common trait: Generosity of spirit. They are the people who gave freely of their time, knowledge and trust and who helped facilitate opportunities for you.

Adam Grant, author of the best selling book Give and Take looks at how and why our success today is increasingly dependent on the interactions we have with others. In essence, he flips the notion that it is successful people that tend to give generously, to the idea that it is those with a generous spirit who become successful. He believes that in a work environment there are three ways people generally operate: taking, matching or giving. Whilst takers seek to get as much as possible form others and matchers focus on trading evenly, givers are those rare people who genuinely contribute without expectation of receiving anything in return. His research shows that whilst some givers do occasionally burn out they are the group that are most likely to achieve extraordinary results regardless of what field they operate in.

Successful leaders are generous: they give freely and unreservedly and often. In reflecting upon some of the amazing leaders that I have either worked for or with there are some other common acts of generosity. They all:

  1. Give Opportunity: Opportunities to engage in meaningful challenging work and not just a list of tasks. Opportunities that extend and open up new thinking & learning, new networks and offer lasting impact.
  2. Give A Strong Sense of Belonging: They create environments that are safe and supportive, allowing us to bring our whole sense of self to the office and not just our work mask. They help you see the value in what you do and feel an intrinsic part of the team and organisation’s success.
  3. Give Guidance: Generous leaders seek to guide and not control. They offer constructive feedback rather than criticism and empower you to make decisions with strong frameworks of support.
  4. Give Space: Space to explore, create, grow, fail and make mistakes and most importantly to get back up confidently and go again.
  5. Give Information, Knowledge & Experience: Not only do generous leaders offer their insights they encourage others to do so as well. They understand that increased leverage and success comes with purposeful collaboration and open, willing minds not but holding tightly onto things.
  6. Give Credit: By recognising and appreciating the efforts of others the generous leader helps to create a sense of shared success. They understand the power of ‘We’ is much more powerful than ‘I’.
  7. Give Encouragement: Generous leaders encourage you to step out and try different things, take risks and push the boundaries of what you think you are capable of. They offer faith in you and push you to be the best you can be.
  8. Give Trust: Generous leaders understand that high performing cultures are rich in trust. Trust amongst each other, in each other’s talents, capabilities and values.
  9. Give Time and Energy: Generous leaders understand the importance of really listening and engaging. They offer their time, their total attention and interest in you, what you are doing and the outcomes you seek.
  10. Give Time Back To Themselves: The generous leader works hard to ensure that their batteries remain charged so as to enable them to give on an ongoing basis. They invest in time and energy in what reinvigorates them in mind, body and spirit.

Giving generously tends to inspire others to do the same. It also helps us create a lasting legacy for what we do, the people we work with and the businesses we have or work for. I would encourage you to explore how you can give generously through your leadership and inspire others to continue to ‘pay it forward’, not only as we race towards the end of the year but into 2020 and beyond.

Can you think of some ways you can integrate greater generosity and gratitude into your day-to-day leadership? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

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