How Helping Others Drives Success
Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness.
–Martin Luther King Jr.
In his recent bestselling book entitled Give and Take, organizational psychologist Adam Grant divides people into givers, takers, and matchers, then analyzes how each type defines and achieves success. His descriptions and rich examples provide critical insight for CEOs into how their leadership style impacts their organization and its success.
In ten years of studying reciprocity in organizations, Grant has identified three fundamental styles. While each of us may use all three styles on occasion, we tend to use one of these primary interaction styles:
- Takers like to get more than they give;
- Givers prefer to give more than they get, and
- Matchers seek an equal balance of giving and getting.
Examples of takers abound. Although most of us possess a kind of “justice radar” protecting us from predatory types, many takers are good at hiding their true nature. The Achilles heel for takers, however, is that they can’t help themselves and eventually display evidence of their true nature. The late Ken Lay of Enron is cited as a perfect example of a taker in giver’s clothing, often able to ingratiate himself to those in a position to help him. Eventually, though, public company taker CEOs expose their attitude that they are the “suns in their companies solar systems.” Useful unobtrusive measures cited by the author are the size of the CEO’s picture in the annual report, the CEO’s overuse of first person pronouns when describing the company’s progress, and the high degree of compensation the CEO receives relative to his direct reports. For example, taker CEOs tend to earn 3 times as much as the next highest paid executive, while the multiple averages 1.5 for givers.
CEOs who are givers can be harder to detect but refreshing to find. Grant describes a number of giver CEOs who have been very successful while giving much to those around them. Jon Huntsman and David Hornik are two of a number of business leaders mentioned who have succeeded through their unselfish support of those around them.
Matchers “operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity.” You can tell you’e a matcher if you continually seek to create an even exchange of favors, rather than looking for an advantage for yourself or not keeping score at all. Often, givers become matchers when they have to deal with takers, in order to protect their interests from being bulldozed.
Which style produces the least successful people? Which style is practiced by the most successful? Surprisingly, in both instances, it’s the givers. Two types of givers emerged: selfless givers and other-focused givers. Selfless givers have “high other-interest and low self-interest… and they pay a price for it. Selfless giving is a form of pathological altruism.” Giving without any getting eventually leads to burnout. The real winners are other-focused givers. As Grant puts it, “if takers are selfish and failed givers are selfless, successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.” Otherish is a term he uses to describe these winning givers who, while they aren’t selfless, they “help with no strings attached; they’re just careful not to overextend themselves along the way.”
Grant offers practical actions you can take to leverage the insight provided by the book. Here are a few:
Test Your Giver Quotient – He provides online self-assessment tools at www.giveandtake.com that you and people in your network can take to rate your reciprocity style.
Run a Reciprocity Ring – What would happen if groups of people in your organization met weekly for 20 minutes to make requests and help each other fulfill them?
Help Other People Craft Their Jobs to Incorporate More Giving – A VP at a large multinational retailers met one-on-one with each of his employees and asked them what they would enjoy doing that might also benefit other people.
Embrace the Five-Minute Favor – Ask people what they need and look for ways to help that are valuable to them but have minimal cost to you.
If you’re interested in moving your business forward using practical knowledge based upon social psychological research, you’ll find Give and Take highly thought-provoking and beneficial.