Over the past three and a half years, the job of Village President has kept me so busy that it leaves hardly any spare time to devote to one of my favorite activities–reading. But earlier this year, a fellow volunteer recommended a book that was so intriguing I sacrificed sleep to finish it; in fact this book continues to resonate. Called “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives our Success,” by Adam Grant, it was an enlightening read for anyone in a leadership role such as mine. Using concrete examples, it offered insights into the way we interact with others in the workplace, either as Givers, Takers, or Matchers, and how this can have a profound impact not only on our personal success, but also on the success of our organization.
The examples and ideas in this book have given me much food for thought. The author makes the point that the happiest, most likely to be promoted people, are givers. The individuals who fall into this category make others’ needs a priority. They intuitively help and mentor others, are excellent communicators, and bring out the best in people by recognizing and appreciating their strengths and contributions. As a result, givers are most successful because they garner a network of support over time from others that they’ve helped. However, here’s the catch…givers can also be the least successful people if they allow themselves to be exploited by the takers, those who give strategically. Givers burn out if they do not see some sort of result from their efforts, some sense of contribution to the greater good. The key, Grant writes, is to engage in “otherish giving,” which ultimately separates successful from unsuccessful givers. Give, but make sure it is to people and things that you care about, where you receive a larger sense of purpose. Give, but not when it comes at the expense of your own health, or personal and work satisfaction. Many of our commitments in life, professional and civic, involve the push and pull of giving and receiving. To be a good citizen, or a good worker, we often extend ourselves to help or serve others with the hopes that down the road we will all be better off for it. It’s not motivated by a selfish quest for success; the givers among us have simply evolved to be really good at cooperation and empathy. A favorite passage: “This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
It is exciting to ponder what new opportunities might be waiting for me as I round the corner into 2017. I hope you share a similar sense of anticipation for the New Year ahead, and that in this holiday season, the spirit of giving brings much happiness into your own life.