Good leaders help others shine and grow.
The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. – Nelson Henderson
I am holding in my hand a graceful, inspirational book entitled Ramban's Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It is Necessary to Give by Julie Salamon. The book is based on the teachings of Ramban, a physician and philosopher who, more than a thousand years ago, developed Ramban's Ladder, which outlines the various forms of giving from the lowest – handing out money begrudgingly, as one might to a panhandler – to the highest, helping someone become self-reliant. I have long been meditating on the whole issue of generosity as an important quality of leadership: observing leaders who had it, and those who lacked it.
When we think of generosity, our thoughts automatically drift to gifts of money or charity. In the context of leadership, there are other gifts that don't have a monetary value, but whose value is beyond price. These include giving someone a chance; giving someone the benefit of the doubt; and giving others a reason to want to work for you. It entails giving others latitude, permission to make mistakes, and all the information that they need to do the job. It's giving them the authority that goes with responsibility – it's giving them due credit for their ideas. In a nutshell, all of this translates to generosity of spirit, a quality we admire in leaders.
Generosity, a word which once meant 'of noble birth,' used to be associated with members of the aristocracy who, by virtue of their privileges, were expected to show generosity towards those in lesser standing. A leader too, by virtue of her position, and the power and privileges that she holds relative to those she leads, has the same expectations and obligations. A prime obligation is to lead with a generous heart, and to be guided by a nobility of mind. A leader's generosity has a positive spreading effect – conversely, its absence has a series of negative consequences that, if a leader paused to reflect on them, may stop her in her tracks.
I am a firm believer that people need more than just 'a nice job close to home.' Most people want to find meaning in their jobs – they want to feel that they are a part of something bigger and something better. They want to know that what they do matters. A leader with a generous spirit understands this need, and connects the dots for people – the dots that help them see how the work they perform, no matter how small it may be in the scheme of things, has a bearing on the ultimate vision of the company.
There is a well-known anecdote that is related by Tom Peters about a hospital in the US that treats cancer. During a series of staff interviews, an interviewer asked the housekeeper what her job entailed. She responded, "I help to cure cancer." Somewhere in that hospital, a leader connected the dots for this individual, and made her feel that she was an integral part of the hospital's mission. Do you do that for the people who do the work in your unit or organization?
There is a lot of talk these days about lack of engagement in the workforce. Imagine how engaged people are when their leader makes them feel that they are a fundamental part of the success of the organization; that everyone, from the receptionist or mail clerk to the Vice President of Product Development, constitutes a binding thread, tightly interwoven into the company fabric – each equally doing its part to give the fabric its strength.
A leader with a generous spirit delegates not just routine work, but understands about delegating worthwhile work that becomes a gift of development and growth for someone else. How we love those leaders. These are the leaders that make us want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work to give that person the very best that we have to offer. These are the leaders who get our discretionary effort, every day.
And what about gifts of information? In a survey on effective motivation published by 1000 Ventures, one of the top items that individuals want in the workplace is the ability to be 'in' on things. This was rated 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Managers ranked this item as 1! This is a large chasm in understanding. The quickest way to satisfy this need in constituents is to share information. We have all come across some leaders who are inclined to hoard crucial information as the currency of power. Leaders with a generous spirit give employees a chance to get under the hood and to be a part of the inner circle. Freely and generously sharing know-how, expertise, and ideas is not only beneficial for employees – it's a smart way of doing business.
Albert Camus said: "Real generosity toward the future consists in giving all to what is present." How often, as leaders, we are so focused on future achievements, on realizing the vision of the organization, that in the process, we neglect the people who are there. A leader of a successful software firm confessed to me once that she woke up one day realizing how much she had disconnected emotionally from the people who did the work in her organization, while focusing on the strategic imperatives of the company. Today, we have a tendency to be too self-absorbed. We become self-involved to the point where, without intending it, we exclude others; and we often only consciously notice that we have excluded them when they have become disengaged. Self-absorption inherently prevents generosity. Once in a while, it helps to stop and ask oneself: Am I giving enough to the people around me?
There is an African village where the greeting words for 'good morning' or 'hello' are: "I am here if you are here." Imagine the gift we give others when we are fully present with them – when we truly see them. Perhaps this is what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said: "The only gift is the gift of thyself." Bill Clinton recently ended a speech to a 6,000-member audience with an exhortation to "see more people." This preceded his reference to all the people who do the clean-up work behind the scenes after the audience leaves. Do we give a thought to the people who are unnoticed in our organizations, those who quietly work in the background?
While generosity in its pure sense is altruistic, you do still get something back from it: surprise dividends in the form of a recycling of goodwill, a surplus of cooperation, and the sheer satisfaction of seeing another benefit from our giving of ourselves, our time, our attention, our knowledge, the very best that we have to offer those who cross our paths at work or life. We will never know what opportunities we may have missed in life by showing up tight-fisted. It is hard to receive anything if we don't open our hands to give.
As a leader, giving people the gift of not just our appreciation for good work, but our genuine admiration for their talents, is generosity of spirit at its pinnacle. This is the difference between saying to someone: "Great job" versus "This was pure genius;" or "I appreciated your help" versus "I couldn't have done it without you." When it comes to genuine praise, like the sun at high noon, give resplendently. When you see good work, say it, and say it from the heart, just as you thought it. Free up the thought, and let it breathe – let it fly out there in the form of generous words, and watch what you get back. Giving is ultimately sharing.
Here are some practical tips to enhance our generosity of spirit:
Copyright © 2008-2014 by Bruna Martinuzzi. All Rights Reserved.
This article is adapted from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow. Bruna is an educator, author, speaker and founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd, a company which specializes in emotional intelligence, leadership, Myers-Briggs and presentation skills training. Visit her website at www.increaseyoureq.com.
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