Leadership Give and Take:
The Paradoxical Truth

Give and TakeWhen it comes to leadership give and take, are you a “taker,” or a “giver?”

Western leaders have been conditioned for generations to believe that the way to advance is to claim as much as possible, to take more than you give.

Many leaders make personal gain the objective of business life, and almost any means to achieve it is fair game.

Talent, passion, hard work and perseverance are certainly valuable. However, taking what you can, even if it’s from others, is often the method used to attain rewards.

But what if there was a paradoxical truth that showed the opposite to be the case… that by giving away what you have, you’ll get even more? There is substance to this truth, and it warrants examination.

It’s been my observation that many employees see their bosses fitting the mold of the “taker.” In a competitive culture where there are definitive winners and losers, these leaders are viewed as prioritizing their personal needs above everyone else’s.

This perception is so common we stereotype managers by their interpersonal behavior. An aggressive, self-serving leader who gets what they want by using people to get it is seen as powerful, competent, and productive. We assume this taker is a person who will work their way up the corporate ladder effectively.

Conversely, leaders who put their needs last, who serve their people by giving more than they take, are seen as weak, interdependent, and insecure. These “givers” are viewed not as likely to advance.

Again, cultural experience makes some of these things seem factual, but looking deeper reveals another reality.

I’ve been reading about these two basic styles of leadership social interaction. In his book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (Penguin 2013), Adam Grant describes the contrast between the taker and the giver.

Taker vs. Giver

  • Takers are more self-focused, motivated to succeed first and give (if necessary) down the road. The ends justify the means, so they believe. Givers are focused on others, and sense the need to give of themselves first, and success will come later. The benefits to others are paramount.
  • Takers see themselves as superior and set apart from the rest. Givers recognize that they belong to a team with diverse skills and that they all depend on each other.
  • Takers are more independent, claim more credit, and are reluctant to share knowledge, privilege, or power. Givers are more willing to ask for help, and to share credit, knowledge, and rewards.

In the traditional mindset, where the spoils belong to the victor, the takers have the perceived edge in leadership success. And initially they may. But over time, as author Grant points out, success depends heavily on how leaders approach their interactions with other people.

What do you think? Do you see “givers” and “takers” where you work? I’d love to hear from you. Give me a call, 704-827-4474. Or, you can reach me here and on LinkedIn.

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