Giver or taker? Find out which nonprofit leadership style is more successful.

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.

The importance of our interactions

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?”

Your mix of giving and taking affects your success

During the last 30 years, social scientists have discovered that people differ dramatically in their preferences for reciprocity. In other words, their desired mix of taking and giving. In order to further uncover differences along the reciprocity spectrum, Grant introduces the two types of people who fall at the opposite ends of the range, as well as the one in the middle. He calls them givers, takers and matchers.


Givers are rare and prefer to give more than they get. Givers are “other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them.” Grant recognizes that givers don’t earn this distinction because they give more charity dollars or demand less pay at work; rather, givers help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Ultimately, they strive to be generous with their time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections. To illustrate giving, Grant cites psychologist Margaret Clark’s research at Yale which concludes that most people act like givers in close relationships. For example, in marriages and friendships, we contribute without keeping score.


Takers, on the other hand, have a distinctive signature, explains Grant. Not only do they like to get more than they give, they “tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs.” Grant adds, “Takers believe the world is a competitive dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts.” The author tempers this description by explaining this group isn’t cruel or cutthroat, they are just cautious and self-protective.


In contrast, the workplace produces behavior that’s neither purely giving nor taking. “We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on the principle of fairness: when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity.” In short, your relationships at work are ruled by an even exchange of favors.

Who is the most successful? Grant discovers a surprising pattern.

Giving, taking and matching are three fundamental styles of social interaction but Grant explains they aren’t hard and fast because people can shift from one style to another as they move from one setting to another. Professionally, all three reciprocity styles have their own benefits and drawbacks, states Grant.

However, one style in particular is not only more successful than the others, but can also experience failure if the person is constantly yielding to others or gives to the point of exhaustion. Givers are most likely to land at the bottom of the success ladder, but Grant discovered a surprising pattern:

Givers are also most likely to be at the top. “Givers dominate the bottom and the top of the success ladder. Across occupations, if you examine the link between reciprocity styles and successes, the givers are more likely to become champs—not only chumps.”

What kind of connector will you be? Perhaps during this timely week in November, it would be better to think about Thanksgiving than Thanksgetting.

See also:

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

Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World

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

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