Over my long and varied career, mainly in large multi national businesses, the one thing that created success where acts of generosity. They created collaboration, how we felt about our work as well as sometimes even changing the trajectory of lives and careers; I will never forget the lunch in 2003 that changed my life trajectory. My lunch date, let’s call her Lynn, immediately announced she had resigned from her position as Global EVP Marketing for a major global corporation, and then followed up with: It is your fault! At my astonished face she smiled and said: Two years ago, you asked me some very good questions about my future. I started to ask around and it became clear that I would never be admitted to the executive committee, my next logical step. So I decided it was better to leave now than 10 years from now. And then she followed up with: You are really good at this; you should do it for a living! This simple act of generosity, to actually tell me how instrumental my questions to her had been, changed the entire trajectory of my life. It took me away from business strategy towards leadership development in various forms.
Business in all its forms is fundamentally built on such trusting relationship, inside and outside an organization.
For any relationship to begin and eventually blossom, one party needs to dare to let down the draw-bridge and invite the other party ‘into their castle’ by a gesture of goodwill and generosity. If not, we would remain forever frozen in our individual positions or the (sometimes unproductive) ways we do things.
- Generosity can mean many things, and it is not the same thing as always being nice. For example, it can be very generous to take the time and personal discomfort to give someone tough feedback instead of humouring them. It might be the ‘aha-moment’ that changes their lives.
- It can be listening to others without judging them or jumping to conclusions, assuming the other person has a valid point of view, whether we like it or not, agree or not or it happens to be clumsily expressed.
- Generosity is also – listening to our own inner truth and honestly and respectfully expressing how we feel about something. The generous act of exposing ourselves, give others permission to speak up.
- In developing relationships with new colleagues, customers, suppliers or private contacts, generosity can be a simple act of sharing knowledge or an introduction that solves a problem or progresses a project.
- Being generous is often seen as a weakness in today’s mainstream business environment. It is as if giving to others somehow means that you, the giver, ‘have less’. This scarcity mentality is prevalent in most corporations and generous executives are seen as weak and naïve.
But now science is on the generous leader’s side, as Adam Grant’s ground-breaking research showed in his 2013 book, ‘Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success’, the ‘Givers’ of this world actually turn out to be the most successful in their businesses and careers compared to ‘Takers’ (who never give) and ‘Reciprocators’ (who only give if they get something in return).
Generous leaders deeply know that mindful generosity (while not neglecting one’s own responsibilities) actually creates more business and abundance for themselves and others to share in.
They often also have the courage to truly be who they are, speak with honesty and therefore engender trust.
Trust can change everything, in business and in life, while dis-trust keeps us frozen and unable to change as human beings and as businesses.
With kind and warm and generous regards
Anita Hoffmann is founder of Executiva, a board advisory, executive search and coaching firm. She is a visiting fellow at Cranfield School of Management Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility.