There is compelling evidence for a revolutionary way of thinking about personal success in business, dealing with friends and family, raising our children, and designing our institutions. This relatively rare way of doing business could define a road to success marked by new ways of relating to colleagues and customers as well as new ways of growing business. Martin Luther King Jr may have said it best: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” Giving is, in the long run, the recipe for success in the corporate world and one’s personal life. Unfortunately a commonly held belief in the business world equates givers with weakness and takers with strength.
Although self-sufficiency is acclaimed in the world, this could be just the right time for us to pull out that old rolodex, take a different approach to success, and see how helping others drives our success. In our interconnected world, the roots of sustainable success lie in creating success for those around you. Let’s take a few moments to take a look at the difference between givers, takers, and those in between. Takers have a distinctive signature; they like to get more than they give. When their relationships and reputations become visible to the world, it’s harder to achieve sustainable success as a taker. Givers tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. While takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them. These preferences are not about money. Rather, givers and takers differ in their attitudes and actions toward other people. If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Some people are a mix and possibly adopt a third style of business. We can call them the in-betweens. They are the “karma police”. They operate on the principle of fairness when they help others. They protect themselves by believing in a tit for tat relationship. And, they govern those relationships by even exchanges of favors.
So why is the counterintuitive approach of giving in business and everyday life a new behavioral benchmark for doing business better? The answer may be provided by the esteemed psychologist Shalom Schwartz, who for three decades has studied the values and guiding principles that matter to people in different cultures around the world. His studies and surveys are translated into a dozen languages and are samples from thousands of adults in Australia, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, America, etc. He asked those adults to rate the importance of different values. Here is the shortened list. List 1: Wealth (money, material possessions), Power (dominance, control over others), Pleasure (enjoying life), and Winning (doing better than others). List 2: Helpfulness (working for the well-being of others), Responsibility (being dependable), Social Justice (caring for the disadvantaged), Compassion (responding to the needs of others). Whereas takers favor the values in List 1, givers believed the values in List 2 were priorities. Take a second look at the countries listed above. Where do the majority of people endorse giver values above taker values? All of them. They rated giving as their single most important value.
Are you a giver at your workplace? Perhaps you think your co-workers or boss will perceive you as a less serious executive? I say go for it. In the long run, you will see success in terms of making significant lasting contributions to a broad range of people. Taking giving seriously, might not only make organizations take a look at the individual accomplishments of their employees, but broaden their view of success to include contributions to others.
Dale Lynn Dohm