In the Season of Goodwill is it Time to Lead by Giving?

December 8, 2015
December 8, 2015 Joe Britto

It’s Christmas, the lights are up all over town, it’s the season of goodwill. And there’s even a newborn who’s heralded a new era of gift-giving and generosity.

But the new baby I’m thinking of certainly wasn’t born in a stable. And the gift on everybody’s lips this December is a long way from frankincense, myrrh or even gold. In fact it’s a gift that’s way beyond the means of even the most wealthy. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have marked the birth of their first child with a $45bn philanthropic charitable donation of Facebook shares.

Giving To Gain

Whether the philanthropy is a cynical exercise to avoid tax, increase political influence or a simple act of generosity, the Facebook billionaire generated a lot of column inches. And Zuckerberg isn’t the first business leader or high profile denizen of the Forbes rich list to give away substantial amounts of money. Philanthropy is an increasingly big deal in business. Regardless of the controversies and criticism, giving away money increases a leader’s cachet.

Everyday Giving

But giving isn’t just about rich people giving away large tracts of their fortunes. Many businesses raise money for charities. Ordinary folk like you and me volunteer; organizations donate time and skills through employee volunteering programmes.

Even though Christmas seems like a time of frantic consumerism and gifts that don’t last beyond the big Day, many people give of their time and energy at Christmas. Homeless charities run Christmas homeless shelters and volunteering slots get booked up weeks in advance.

Takers and Givers

But what does any of this have to do with leading a business?

There are people for whom giving of their time and skills to help colleagues seems innate. How to harness the positive impact of ‘givers’ in the workplace has been a focus of Adam Grant’s work. When ‘givers’, he says, offer their time and knowledge they form collaborative networks. ‘Takers’, on the other hand, hold on to their skills, knowhow and time. Grant found that in the best organizations enabling givers helped everyone give of their time and knowledge.

Leadership and Giving

Giving as a leader isn’t a new idea. Servant leadership, as it’s often called, doesn’t have the showy appeal of other modes of leadership. The result? It doesn’t always get the attention it merits.

Why should you give your time, knowledge and skills to your people as a leader? Shouldn’t you be taking charge?

Well, the simple answer is no. Giving makes you and your organization more productive. Why? Because giving cultivates a virtuous circle. Your organization becomes more productive through that circle. Crucially, giving as a leader means giving up complete control and giving autonomy to others.

Giving: A Route to Leadership

As a leader the most important thing you can do is give of yourself. Giving up some of your own power means there’s room for others to step up. And that’s one way to develop leadership at all levels.

Sound interesting? Here’s a few tips we’ve found that work to generate a culture of workplace giving:

  • Trust and listen to your people – they might know more than you
  • Give your teams autonomy to make decisions
  • Put yourself out there – be visible in your workplace and greet people
  • Think about the long-term benefits to your organization of a culture of giving
  • Set an example of service to others


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