The Influence of Leadership Styles: How Givers and Takers Match-Up

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Workplaces are full of givers, takers, and matchers. What are the pros and cons of various leadership styles?

Adam Grant Give and TakeAre you a giver or a taker? Or something in between, a matcher? And what does any of this have to do with the success of your business?

The stereotypical image of business success is climbing a ladder. Since only one person at a time can climb the ladder, this approach necessitates stepping over others to reach the top.

In Give and Take, Wharton management professor Adam Grant argues the opposite.

Today’s knowledge economy demands workers and leaders who are primarily givers (contribute to others without seeking anything in return) as opposed to takers (try to get other people to achieve their goals without investing much of their own effort or time) primarily intent on getting to the top of that ladder. 

Instead of climbing upwards as individuals, we’re better off holding hands to cross over a wide end zone. Tim Stevens (using slightly different terminology) describes the difference as:

Givers:

  • Want people to succeed
  • Are generous with their time
  • Are not competitive with their peers and share credit for achievements; conversely, they share the blame for mistakes and work collaboratively to institute fixes
  • Are flexible in applying rules
  • Genuinely care about the needs of team members and work to help them achieve their goals 

Takers:

  • Take all the credit (even when they’ve done the least to earn it)
  • Blame others for mistakes
  • Compete with others instead of work with others
  • Are inflexible in applying rules (except possibly when they apply to themselves)
  • Do not commit their time to help others or participate in activities that do not directly benefit themselves
  • Do not share or play well with others

Related Article: What Does Your Leadership Style Say About You?

Finding a Matching Balance

Except for extreme cases, no one is, or should be, exclusively a giver or a taker. Most of us are matchers, striving to attain an effective balance between the two.

In the Harvard Business Review, Grant writes that employees make decisions every day on whether to be a giver or a taker to address a particular situation. This is because that while a willingness to help others underpins notion of collaboration and teamwork, organizational structures tend to promote takers. Only one person on the team is promoted, for example, and for everyone that gets the highest performance rating, someone else has to get a low rating.

Moreover, while studies show a correlation between giving behavior and higher rates of profitability, productivity, efficiency and customer satisfaction, as well as lower turnover rates and costs of doing business, there is a downside.

Givers who exclusively put the needs of others before their own tend to become overwhelmed, resulting in the neglect of their own responsibilities and setting themselves up for burnout. Instead of accommodating each and every need of others, givers need to set boundaries. For example, selecting only certain people to help or setting fixed mentoring times for new employees.

As Akira Hirai observes, you can’t be a doormat. You need to be strategic in deciding who you give to and who you don’t. Be there for those who genuinely need your help and, at the same time, advance the goals of the team/company. Don’t waste your time on people who are primarily takers; they are only it to advance their own interests and there’s nothing to be gained by the team/company.

Related Article: Leadership of Champions: How to Actively Create Company Culture

Generous Leaders Give Back

Promoting giving behavior in your SMB has a twofold purpose:

  • Adopting giving leadership behaviors encourages teamwork, ensures goals are achieved and promotes employee loyalty and dedication.
  • Identifying “givers” in your organization focuses your attention on key personnel to whom you should give your own personal time and attention. Fostering a giving culture drills down throughout the organization to reinforce positive behaviors that result in improved business success.

The old adage that it is better to give than receive is not quite correct. If you give sensibly, you and everyone who works with you receives the monetary and emotional rewards of doing a well done job together.

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