Do you have a giver or taker leadership style? The surprising truth about both.

Last week I posed the question, “Ever wonder what makes some of your interactions successful and others failures?”

Give and Take author Adam Grant also wanted to know this answer so he spent 10 years of his life studying the professional choices of leaders from all walks of life.

What he found were givers, takers and matchers. Grant’s startling discovery is that givers dominate both the top and bottom of the success ladder. Grant explores compelling research that illustrates how—in spite of the risk—giving is more powerful than people believe. Grant’s book examines the special behavior that’s characteristic of the givers at the top.

Grant’s book begs the question

So why aren’t more of us giving, especially in the nonprofit world that focuses on giving to people outside the organization? Could nonprofits be even more successful if healthy giving translated everywhere, even inside the nonprofit?

Grant argues that many of us compartmentalize our giving outside of the workplace yet inside the workplace is exactly the territory where giving should expand. We know that much of our professional achievement depends on the success of our relationships with others. We must ask ourselves if we’re doing more taking than giving or if we’re satisfied with simply staying in the middle.

The fourth and often neglected trait in highly successful people

Adam Grant explains that highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability and opportunity. He argues that a fourth ingredient is often neglected. This characteristic involves how we approach our interactions with other people. “Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make: Do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute value without worrying about what we receive in return?”

Lead from the Heart author Mark C. Crowley conducted an interview with Adam Grant about Give and Take and kindly allowed us to share an excerpt with you.

Mark Crowley: If we know giving ensures succeeding, why don’t more people lead this way?

Adam Grant: Part of the reason I wrote this book is that I was raised by extremely generous parents and came to take giving for granted. But then I got into the workplace and was struck by how many people were paranoid and felt like everyone was a taker and out to get them. Their belief was, “If I don’t put myself first, no one will.”

According to Stanford psychologist Dale Miller, when people anticipate self-interested behavior, they believe they’ll be exploited if they operate like givers. So they conclude that “pursuing a competitive orientation is a rational and appropriate thing to do.” There’s also great popularity in books like Robert Green’s The 48 Laws of Power and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Books like these demonstrate we don’t see much room for giver values in our professional lives.

And, finally, when you look at core values and world-views, oftentimes the simpler view is the easier one to hold on to. There are people who believe giving is good and overlook its dark side; and there are people who believe giving is foolish and a great way to be exploited and overlook the upside. Maybe the reason we need to convince more leaders to be givers is because, of course, it’s both.

Mark Crowley: Why does it always seem as though takers find success despite their self-serving practices?

Adam Grant: Let me be clear that givers, takers, and matchers all can—and do—achieve success. But there’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: It spreads and cascades. When takers win, there’s usually someone else that loses. Research shows that people tend to envy takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. As the venture capitalist Randy Komisar remarked, “It’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win. If you don’t make enemies out there, it’s easier to succeed.”

Jonas Salk, who during a press conference announcing the cure for polio, famously failed to acknowledge any of the several scientists who greatly contributed to the breakthrough. Despite Salk’s long-enduring fame, he never went on to win a Nobel Prize, nor was he elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences—recognition that every prominent polio researcher later earned. For being a taker, and for not giving well-deserved credit to people who had helped him, Salk was snubbed by his peers. Such is the karma of takers.

Watch for my next post when we’ll explore Grant’s suggestions for modeling what the best givers do to succeed rather than burn out.

See this book and other relevant titles we’ve summarized:

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success

12: The Elements of Great Managing

It’s Not Just Who You Know: Transform Your Life (and Your Organization) by Turning Colleagues and Contacts Into Lasting, Genuine Relationships

Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go from Manager to Leader

Image credits: Lead From the Heart,,


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