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Why Successful Leaders Focus On Giving Over Getting

March 31, 2015
Borderless Leadership

One of the wonderful benefits of our digital age is not only how we’re able to discover the talent and artistry of people we might have otherwise overlooked, but also how we’re now able to peek behind the curtain to learn what inspires them; to discover and understand what guides them to create these moments of engaging insights that linger in our mind’s eye.

It’s a concept I recently appreciated when I came upon this video by comedian Michael Jr. where he shares what he views as being the moment where he had his big break as a comedian. His description of the big break in his career is not only a heartwarming and revealing look into the art of stand-up comedy, but it also shines a light on an important lesson for today’s leaders to embrace.

Now granted, it may seem weird to pull a lesson on leadership from a comedian talking about laughter and comedy. But it becomes a bit clearer when we find out that Michael Jr.’s big break as a comedian wasn’t when he performed on The Tonight Show or at the internationally renowned Montreal Just For Laughs comedy festival.

Rather, as Michael Jr. describes in the quote below, his big break was something more internally-driven and personally significant:

“The big break was at a club and right before I got on stage, I had a change in mindset about comedy. Normally, when a comedian gets on stage, he wants to get laughs from people. I felt a little shift take place, where I felt like I was to go up there and give them an opportunity to laugh. Now I’m not looking to take. I’m looking for an opportunity to give.”

Now although this comedian is referring to the relationship he has with his audience and his shift in how he views that dynamic, there is nonetheless an important message to learn here regarding the dynamics we have as a leader with those under our care.

Specifically, it compels us to ponder the following: when we go into those meetings with our employees, when we have those conversations with those we lead, are we walking into that moment with the goal of getting something for us, or do we see it as an opportunity to give something of ourselves to those we lead?

As leaders, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our success is dictated by what we’re able to attain from those we lead – of how we’re able to attract the top talent found in our organization because they want to be a part of our team. The truth, however, about succeeding at leadership is found when we invert this perception – where we understand that it’s not about what we get from those we lead, but what we give others through our leadership.

Successful leaders understand that to attract the best means you have to show your commitment to helping others become their best. These leaders understand that the value we create through our leadership is defined by the opportunities we’re able to give our employees to contribute their talents, creativity, and insights to a purpose that’s bigger than ourselves.

That’s why successful leaders are able to attract and retain key talent with ease – people can see that these leaders are not driven by personal gain, but in finding ways to help others do meaningful, purpose-lead work.

In other words, the value of our leadership is not in what we get, but in what we’re able to give. Of how we’re able to use our power and influence to create moments and opportunities that inspire and motivate those we lead to step forward and commit to our shared purpose because they see the gains to be had – not just for us, but for themselves as well.

For us to be able to create a sustainable, enduring workplace culture and environment in today’s ever-changing global environment, we need to shift our narrative from what can I get from others to what can I give to help others. We need to ask ourselves how can we use the resources and opportunities at our disposal to not only help our employees to succeed, but to challenge them to bring their full selves to the work they do in order to become stronger participants in our shared goals.

If you look at any of those iconic leaders of the past few decades who continue to earn our respect, admiration, and even hope that we might in our own way mirror their leadership in how we lead, we can see this common thread coursing through the examples of leadership that they represent.

In every case, no matter where in the world they were from or in which field of human pursuit they were committing themselves to, the achievements we still write about and honour years and even decades later are not the things these leaders collected or gained.

Instead, our focus is on what they gave of themselves that helped those around them to achieve something we all long for – to feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose, to know that the work we do matters and is important, and in some cases, to know that we helped pave the way to make our world better than it was before.

Each of these leaders understood that the real strength of leadership is not what we amass, but what others sow from the seeds we plant.

And it’s this kind of strength that we need to see in today’s leaders so that organizations can move beyond the reactive, short-term myopia many are now struggling to find firm ground in, to the responsive, reflective approach that’s required in order to create strategies that will ensure our long-term prosperity and success.

Indeed, this shift in perspective is what’s necessary for us to no longer look at our situation from a mindset of scarcity and instead, lead our organization from a mindset of abundance, where change and adaptation to today’s realities is no longer viewed as a zero-sum game.

We have to remember that our employees look to us to not only define what matters to our organization, but to also provide the emotional context that will help them to frame their understandings of not only where we need to go next, but for how to contextualize the challenges and obstacles they will face on any given day in your organization.

When we shift our focus from getting to giving, we’re able to appreciate this responsibility because our focus is now outward on those around us; on how we show up in those daily interactions and what we impart to our employees from those conversations.

In many ways, success is found not only in the end outcome, but in moments where we connect with those we lead. Where we’re able to create that bond that tells others I’m here to help because I want all of us to succeed. For it’s in those moments that it becomes less about how successful we will ultimately be, and more about how much we’re able to encourage others to get involved and contribute.

The truth is our leadership is more than just a list of accomplishments; it’s how we inspired others to care. After all, if we’re not driving people to affect change, to not settle for the status quo but to commit to doing better – to being better – what exactly are we leading?

If we want people to feel compelled to dedicate themselves to the shared purpose that defines why we do what we do, we have to show them that we’re reaching out to them, to get them involved as much as we are because they see our focus is not on us, but on all of us.

Near the end of this video, comedian Michael Jr. shares the following idea:

“If we could just stop asking the question ‘What could I get for myself?’ and start asking the question, ‘What could I give from myself?’ I think people would learn that you don’t have to be a comedian to deliver a punchline.”

While he may be speaking about how the power to make others laugh exists in each of us, his statement is also a valuable lesson for leaders to take hold of – that our ability to succeed at leading others is not dependent on what we’re able to get, but on what we’re willing to give.

By Tanveer Naseer

Source: Tanveer Naseer

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