The Giving Manager

Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on one of the most important aspects of being a great manager: giving. Often, we focus on what what we gain as a manager or leader. We get more power, we get more responsibility, we get more autonomy, we get more money (sometimes)! We get to tell people what to do!


But, great managers are those who focus on giving. They focus on giving in two primary ways: 1) serving others and 2) inspiring a culture of generosity on their teams.


Great managers and leaders give to their teams. This particular type of leadership is called “servant leadership”, and it’s the concept that leaders serve others first. The servant leader has a goal of enabling the development and growth of others through building community and enabling trust. Essentially, servant leadership is about GIVING power to others, as opposed to holding onto or taking power from others. In practice, you’ve seen the servant leaders. They are most likely the managers who have had the biggest impact on your career. They are the managers who coached you, gave you responsibility, and praised you to others for your accomplishments, while taking very little credit for themselves. Servant leaders give time, ideas, energy, knowledge and insight about themselves to their team. (NB: servant leadership is not a new concept: see Lao Tzu’s quote on the topic)*.


Great managers and leaders also inspire a culture of generosity on their teams. Research has shown that people who have a primary orientation of giving to others have greater long-term career success. Teams with a culture of giving are more successful than those teams that have a dominant self-orientation. And, teams that focus on giving are far more likely to collaborate more effectively.


The skeptics reading this blog are undoubtedly thinking: If I give too much I’m going to get taken advantage of (potentially true unless you actively manage against being a doormat). If I operate as a servant leader and give away all of my power, I’ll become redundant as a manager (probably not true, you and your teams will be able to stretch ‘up’ more). If I give my team insight into my shortcomings, they won’t respect me (definitely not true, vulnerability in a manager -and in life(!) inspires trust, loyalty, and engagement.)


Okay, so now that I have you convinced about the power of giving, here’s a Buzzfeed-inspired listicle of a bunch of easy and quick ways you can give more as a manager, and how you can build a culture of generosity on your teams. Happy Thanksgiving and happy giving!


1. Give well-structured positive and constructive feedback. Give praise about your team to others (especially more senior people!)


2. Do a five-minute favor: focus on what you can give to someone in five minutes (perhaps an introduction or a few pieces of feedback on a cover letter). You’ll ultimately be able to help more people and reduce getting burnt out.


3. Give your team clear, detailed expectations for the work that they do and give them the freedom to figure out how they achieve those expectations.


4. Host a reciprocity ring on your team or in your organization to get people in the spirit of giving. This simple exercise involves everyone on the team asking for help on a particular favor. It provides an easy way for people to ask for help and for people to give. (Here’s how to host one!)


5. Give your team insight into what you struggle with and your weaknesses. Again, vulnerability builds trust, especially in those you manage; and, in situations of negotiation and persuasion, this approach (called “powerless communication”) has significant benefits.


6. And lastly….ask for help!! The best way to get a team in the spirit of giving is to ask for help. It’s often scary or intimidating to ask for help as we don’t want to be seen as incompetent. So break the cycle and start asking for help...others will follow.


TL;DR

  • Great managers give to their teams and inspire a culture of generosity in their teams and organizations

  • Servant leadership is the concept that great leaders work to help others develop and grow and ultimately, give away their own power.

  • A culture of generosity in a team inspires more collaboration, trust and long-term career success for its members.

  • The fear of giving is that we will be taken advantage of or lose our role and authority; when done right, those are unfounded fears!

  • There are easy ways to become more giving as a manager (including giving feedback and being vulnerable with your team), as well as ways to inspire more giving across your team (including hosting a reciprocity ring).

*"The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware…. The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, 'We ourselves have achieved it!" - Lao Tzu, 5 BC

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