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.
In a recent article in Small Business Trends, CEO Curt Finch of Journyx contrasts the benefits of “flow” over “multitasking” in achieving optimal employee productivity. Recent studies show that multitasking can be highly unproductive, while flow is much better:
“As defined by author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow occurs when you enter a state of intense and effortless concentration on the task at hand. It is often referred to as ‘being in the zone,’ and employees are far more productive while in this state than at any other time.”
That made me wonder to what extent the same principle applies to CEOs and how they use their time. Most CEOs are paragons of multitasking. Each day comprises formal and informal meetings and calls that address a multitude of topics across multiple domains. A CEO friend once described it this way: “It feels like I’m walking the halls of the office and people are ripping off pieces of flesh as I walk by. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted.”
As with employees, multitasking would seem to be the natural enemy of flow for CEOs. Of course a CEO must necessarily handle more than one issue at a time, but if you continually find yourself without enough time to adequately address important but not urgent issues, multitasking may be slowing your company’s growth.
Finding uninterrupted time to consider how to grow the company is a common CEO challenge. Achieving “CEO flow” may require a level of discipline above what you’ve applied in the past. Delegating more tasks to your executive team, encouraging them to be more mutually accountable, and becoming more protective of open space in your calendar can enable you to become the chief visionary officer that your company needs.
Are you spending time in the zone that’s needed to create the right vision, or are you always multitasking?
While the latest formula or insight sells business books, most business leaders tend to find their own way, then apply and reapply principles that emerge through their experience.
James Weaver is a serial CEO who’s led multiple companies out of deep holes back to relevance and profitability. He’s one of those gifted CEO’s who quickly finds the right course of action for a failing company and leads the organization to a new and better way to operate.
When I invited him to participate in a book of CEO principles I’m assembling called Shoot the Runt, he suggested a topic immediately. In turning around companies like Gold’s Gym, James developed a mindset and process that encourages everyone in the organization to achieve their highest potential, and he was generous in sharing that process to help the book.
James found repeated success by generating a sense of accountability that drives organizations to new heights of success. Check out the latest CEO/mentor dialog called Mutual Accountability Magic that’s based on the process he’s used successfully multiple times.
When I was recently interviewed for a Wall Street Journal article, answering questions about doing business in Texas came remarkably easy. The interview was nominally about Rick Perry, but almost all our time was spent discussing the state’s relatively healthy job scene.
When asked why Texas is special, I told Dan Henninger about a Brooklyn native and friend named John who worked for me in Dallas in the late 80’s. After having lived in half a dozen cities across the country during his career, he deliberately targeted moving to Dallas when he and his wife were ready to start a family. What inspired him was the attitude of businesspeople in Texas when they lived there once before in the early 80’s.
At that time, the energy sector was spiraling downward at a record pace, but he remembered that, instead of bemoaning their situation, the Texans around him were talking about what they were going to do next. In some cases it meant starting over in new areas of the energy sector, while others were planning how to start anew in other markets. No one spent time crying about their dire situation. The optimism he saw in Texas was like nothing he’d seen elsewhere, so he and his wife deliberately returned a few years later.
My friend Ed Trevis (also quoted in the article) provides another perspective from a non-native Texan. As the long-time CEO of a high tech embedded computing business in Silicon Valley, Ed finally became fed up with California’s overbearing tax and regulatory environment, so he surveyed locations in many other states, looking for the best place to relocate. His criteria included a strong, well-educated labor force, less government interference, and an attractive cost of doing business. Texas came out far ahead in his analysis, and the city of Cedar Park outside Austin provided the perfect place to move his business, which has thrived there since the move two-and-a-half years ago.
To be fair, there are great people everywhere, there are thriving businesses in other states, and there are spots that beat out Texas in one way or another. What is unique about Texas, though, is not only its labor force, its supportive governmental policies, and its low cost structure, but the optimism and collaborative attitude so prevalent among its people. As David Booth, who moved Dimensional Fund Advisors’s headquarters to Austin from California, said, “It’s hard to understand if you haven’t lived here.”
How often do you get to sit in on a conversation with a room full of CEOs? That’s exactly what I did recently when I moderated a CEO Roundtable for TexasCEO and Somerset Consulting Group at the Hotel ZaZa in Dallas (great venue).
We brought together seven executives who run significant businesses in varied industries: communications, commercial construction, manufacturing, chemicals, health and fitness, franchising, and financial services. Each is a recognized leader in their respective industry, and each contributed a unique perspective on the topic of the day: how does company culture affect employee performance?
Everyone naturally agreed that an organization’s culture is a key determinant of its performance. It’s also clear that a CEO’s actions and performance are major factors in creating and preserving that culture. So, what is it that determines who is a CEO?
Having accumulated a number of accomplished CEO friends over the years, I’ve concluded it’s not something that can be taught – CEO’s are a breed unto themselves. You can gain more knowledge by taking B school classes and by reading about others’ experiences in being a CEO (shameless self-promotion), but the basic attributes that drive a classic CEO start showing up early in life:
- the need to succeed in a unique way,
- the willingness to do whatever it takes,
- a desire to have a hand in deciding what’s going on around them,
- and the courage to take responsibility for failure.
The reality of being a CEO is that it requires the level of focus, dedication, and sacrifice that most people aren’t equipped to make. If you disagree, please state your case!
[For more, check out the article about the Dallas CEO Roundtable in the May/June issue of TexasCEO magazine.]