As an executive coach, I am occasionally asked by organizations to “rescue” an executive or help them “grow” substantially, before more serious employment decisions are made. Often, I see a lack of self-awareness and self-management as a key problem. Also, often, issues related to their egos—excessive competition, narcissism and a win-lose attitude. An overarching problem can be the individual’s (and/or the organization’s ) emphasis on “taking” and little on “giving.”

According to a white paper by McKinsey & Company, giver cultures—where employees willingly help each other share knowledge and offer mentorship without expectations of anything in return—produce higher quality work than corporate cultures that encourage competition and duplicity among employees. This non-attachment or non-expectation of reciprocity, which Al Ritter cites in his book, 100/0 Principle: The Secret of Great Relationships, is a significant difference from traditional notions of “give-and-take.”

Emma Seppala, Associate Director for the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at the University of California argues “when organizations promote an ethic of compassion rather than a culture of stress, they may not only see a happier workplace but also an improved bottom line.” Seppala cites the research by Jonathan Haidt of New York University who has demonstrated “that seeing someone help another person creates a heightened state of well-being,” and in a business setting, when leaders demonstrate this behavior, employees felt more loyal and committed, and “more likely to act in a helpful and friendly way with other employees for no particular reason.”

James Fowler, a researcher at the University of California (San Diego) and Nicolas Chrisakis at Harvard University, have shown giving generously and helping are contagious in a workplace setting. Indiana University professor Philip Podsakoff has shown in his research that the frequency with which employees help one another predict sales revenues in organizations across many industries.

Adam Grant, Wharton business professor and author of the best selling book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, studied why some people have been very successful and others less so. He argues that people fall into the categories of “takers, matchers or givers.” Whereas takers try to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly (reciprocity), givers contribute to others without expecting anything in return.

Grant contends leaders need to eliminate unhealthy competition in their organizations, and create a culture where people feel safe to make mistakes and ask for help. He describes how takers tend to claim personal credit for successes, and frequently use pronouns like “I” instead of “we” or “us.”

In giver cultures, Grant argues, employees help others, share knowledge and resources, offer mentoring and make connections without expecting anything in return, whereas in take cultures, the norm is to get as much as possible from others  while contributing less in return.

All too often, leaders create cultures that prevent an open system of helping, giving, generosity and compassion, Grant says. Partly, this is because our Western capitalist business model is based on a winner-take-all, zero-sum competitive ethos, Grant and others would argue.

Grant shows how some leaders and their organizations, have moved to develop giving cultures with dramatic success. Give and Take may be one of the most important business books in the past half-century, one that holds promise for a revolution in the way business organizations work.

You are reading

Wired for Success

Why Solitude Is Good and Loneliness Is Bad

Loneliness is becoming an epidemic but the value of solitude is unappreciated.

Myths and Truths About Successful CEOs

How CEO stereotypes persist despite contrary evidence

The Rebirth of Macho:Toxic Masculinity and Authoritarianism

How the convergence of these three trends threaten American democracy