"What's the business case for generosity?"
What a great question! This is one of the questions posed in this article that was written many years ago however seems even more relevant today!
I had an interesting experience in a grocery store the other day. Well, one among many interesting experiences in the last few months!However, this one really connected me to the impact of leadership generosity.
I was shopping at a new store in a different town as I had other business in that town, and this was my ‘one day a week’ that I ventured out into the world!
I am no longer able to take my reusable bags into the store so am forced to either accept the plastic bags or haul everything to my car and repack in the parking lot.
This particular day it was raining so the thought of standing in the rain and packing my trunk with individual grocery items was not at the top of my list for options.
Pre-Covid grocery store bags cost money, post-Covid my regular grocery store offered them free, presumably because I don’t have a choice but to use them.
As I am loading my groceries at the till the cashier asked me, “How many bags did I give you?”
I looked up with a startled look on my face I’m sure, “What do you mean?” I asked.
“How many bags?” she persisted. “You’re charging me for bags?” I countered.
“We always charge for bags,” she responded.
“I have yet to be in a grocery store that is charging for bags since bringing my own bags has not been an option,” I replied.
She just shrugged and said, “Well we do!”
Now this may seem like a small exchange, not very newsworthy.
The financial lay out after all was only 45 cents. It certainly wasn’t going to break me.
However, the values disconnect with this particular grocery store was priceless.
I was stunned at the lack of generosity the leaders of this store were showing their customers during these trying times.
Now I happen to know the leaders of this store, they regularly do charity events, they are known in the community for ‘giving back’ and there are many pictures in the paper of their generous donations.
I guess perhaps that is why this act of what I considered a ‘lack of generosity’ was so impactful.
It got me thinking about leadership generosity and how that impacts an organization.
Will I shop there again? Likely not!
Will I tell other people about this disconnect? Well, I just have!
What’s Your Level of Generosity?
"What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal." — Albert Pike
How generous a leader are you? How often do you let others take the credit, even if it started out as your idea/concept?
When was the last time you promoted the ideas and/or talents of someone on your team to another person...just because?
When was the last time you encouraged one of your team to challenge themselves to a higher level, even if that might mean he/she moves on from your department or company?
How often do ‘forgive the 5 cents per bag’, and offer up something with no strings attached?
The Roots of Generosity
Humans are a generous species. That statement seems to fly in the face of decades of research—and centuries of conventional wisdom—equating “human nature” with selfishness and aggression.
Yet in recent years, a more complex and nuanced understanding of human nature has emerged.
While studies no doubt suggest that humans have a propensity for self-interest—and these studies have drawn understandable attention—research has revealed that currents of generosity also run deep through us.
Indeed, generosity has its roots not just in our individual development but also in our very biology and evolutionary history.
Species as diverse as bees, birds, vampire bats, rats, and chimpanzees all exhibit forms of generosity, or what can be broadly described as “prosocial behavior”—acts that benefit others.
The broad occurrence of generosity across species suggests that generosity may be an evolutionary adaptation that has helped promote the survival of these species—and our own.
I love that concept…nature shows us that one act of generosity multiplies! So, what is the business case for generosity?
In putting this question out to some of the leaders I have had the pleasure of working with I got some great real-life responses.
- "People see the generosity and they seem to work harder for me."
- "One top manager did end up leaving the department, however she recruited her own replacement who is equally as talented...she wanted a certain standard of replacement before she left!"
- "One of my team members opened up about goals he had (a risky move for him as he wasn't sure the company could provide him with the experience he was looking for). We were able to find ways to incorporate more of the training/experience he was seeking into his current role, instead of losing him because I was afraid to have the discussion, I actually gained far more than I ever could have imagined."
- "I have witnessed our managers passing the generosity on to their team members...it has become the norm in our company, rather than the exception...the ripple effect is awe inspiring!"
How do You Show Your Generosity?
I saw this quote the other day:
“Great leaders don’t succeed because they are great. They succeed because they bring out the greatness in others.” — Jon Gordon
What can you do to bring out the greatness in others?
- Be generous with your time – take time to connect with others, give someone your full attention. Make them feel heard. Let them know you see them. It might be a 1-minute conversation with someone to say, “I notice you seem interested in increasing your sales knowledge. Susan in ABC Division would be a great person to learn from. I’d be glad to introduce you.” Small act…big impact. This says to someone, “I see you and I want to help you grow.”
- Be generous with your talents – mentoring is a great way to encourage growth in others that will benefit the person and the organization.
- Formal mentoring could look like picking 1 or 2 people per year with whom you set up monthly meetings to focus on their long-term development goals.
- Informal mentoring can occur with your direct reports or it can occur with your ‘up level’ managers. Mentoring can happen in a moment with a question like, “Have you thought about that from this perspective?” or “I happen to be really good at understanding process, do you want to walk me through what you have so far?”
One of my client’s the other day was frustrated that a VP didn’t seem to be seeing the big picture in a particular situation. Big picture thinking happens to come very naturally to my client.
“Do you believe your perspective could help her be more successful?” I asked. “Absolutely!” he answered. “Have you shared your perspective?” I then asked. “Well, no!” he replied. “She’s the VP, shouldn’t she be able to see that for herself?”
Sharing your talent doesn’t have to be limited to your own team or division. Ask yourself, “Will sharing this help the person or organization be more successful?”
- Be generous with your feedback – both compliments and constructive feedback are equally important to be shared frequently.
- Compliments fuel people. How many compliments have you handed out in the last week? How specific were you in those compliments?
Specific compliments tell people you notice them, how hard they have been working on something and/or see their specific talents. Instead of saying, “Great job on that project,” be specific about the talents you see in them. “I noticed that your ability to create a well laid out process for the team to follow really contributed to the success of that project.”
- Constructive feedback fuels development. It demonstrates to others that you care about their success. Ask yourself, “Will this piece of feedback help this person be more successful?” or “What’s my intention in giving this piece of feedback?” When giving constructive feedback, start with your intention…”I noticed something that might be getting in your way of success with X, can I give you some feedback about that?” or “I know you are working on developing your X skills, can I give you some feedback that I think might be helpful?”
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
So, I ask you, what is the business case for generosity? How is it currently playing out in your life?
How would it change the way you work/think if you got conscious of your own level of generosity?
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