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.
A frequent and costly pitfall in dealmaking is unconsciously giving away an “elegant negotiable” i.e. something you don’t value that could be of high value to the other party. Identifying and leveraging elegant negotiables will dramatically shift the outcome of dealmaking in your favor.
While recently discussing deal points with a client, I suggested using elegant negotiables to our advantage. The term wasn’t familiar to him, even though he may employ it instinctively. I first encountered it 20 years ago in negotiation training that I’d arranged for my work team, and I’m continually surprised that such a useful concept is not more widely known and used.
Suppose you’re engaged in a discussion with a potential partner to distribute your product with their product suite. Growing incremental revenue from a currently inaccessible set of customers is your goal. One issue is branding: should your product be “white labeled” as part of their suite, or should it clearly carry your logo and be represented as your product?
In this specific case, you don’t care as long as the product gets distributed and generates incremental revenue, so you quickly agree to let your product be shipped without your logo. In doing so, you may have given away a significant bargaining chip that could be used to extract something of high value – for free.
Before defining the distribution agreement, you should have discussed the branding issue to understand how important it is to the other party. Discovering the other side’s strong aversion to having your brand in their suite, you could then “reluctantly” trade your branding in exchange for something of high value to you, e.g., a stronger endorsement from them and online access to their CRM to enable your company to track sales in real time.
Uncovering the other side’s interests is a key starting point. My favorite book on negotiation, 3D Negotiation by Lax and Sebenius, contains a complete treatment of the entire negotiation process. While it doesn’t talk specifically about elegant negotiables, it will increase your understanding of all aspects of the process, and in particular, how to develop a clear picture of the interests of all parties..
Identifying and clarifying interests is critical in spotting elegant negotiables. Stop yielding valuable negotiating power!
Some people have more influence and impact than others, and these same people always seem to have incredible networks. They may not be wealthier or brighter than their friends, but everyone leans in when they talk and remembers what they say.
What’s their magic? Having spent decades observing highly influential friends and acquaintances in my business network, here are a few thoughts about habits that increase influence:
Check Your Ego – How long do you want to interact with a self-absorbed person? When a colleague needs help, be willing to sacrifice your goals for theirs. It’s not all about you; it’s about making good things happen around you.
Leave More Room – While “no plan is a plan to fail” is a good thought, it’s equally true that too tight a plan leaves no room for creativity that results in breakthrough ideas. Plan sufficiently, but leave time in your calendar for serendipity.
Pick Your Battles – When faced with a decision, ask 3 questions: Is this urgent? Is this important? Is this reversible? Realize that urgent matters far outnumber critical ones. Act on the most important matters in a timely way, then when a truly serious problem comes along, you’ll have more time and energy to address it.
Share Your Insight – When you find useful and positive information, consider who would be most helped by this knowledge, then share it with them. I’ve practiced this for years, and the instant communication we have now (email, text, social media) makes it much easier.
Keep It Cool – When panic strikes, the coolest head prevails, and influence grows. A doctor long ago taught me to start deep muscle relaxation exercises reflexively when stress arises. You too can train yourself to relax and think clearly under stress. Remember that few decisions in business are life-threatening or irreversible.
Keep the Faith – Most importantly, choose to look at things from a higher perspective, and place your faith in something beyond yourself. (Again, it’s not all about you.) Determine your purpose in life beyond making money and buying more toys, then operate with that foundation as your core. Start each day by reconnecting with that larger personal identity before the relentless battle for your consciousness begins and you’re drawn into darkness, irrelevance, or time-wasting activities.
To summarize, don’t strive to be an influential person. Instead try to deliver value in every interaction, and influence will follow.