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

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

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 (those who contribute to others without seeking anything in return) as opposed to takers (those who try to get other people to achieve their goals without investing much of their own effort or time). 

Instead of climbing upward as individuals, we're better off holding hands to cross over a wide end zone. 

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

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 daily on whether to be a giver or a taker to address a particular situation. This is because while a willingness to help others underpins the 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.

Overgiving

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.

Becoming a successful giver

Adam Grant explains that givers are usually at the top and the bottom of the corporate ladder, with matchers and takers in the middle. However, the difference between the bottom and the top has nothing to do with being competent or working hard.

He goes on to state that purely zero-sum situations rarely pay off for the giver, but most situations aren't zero sum. Often the payoff for the giver happens over time and may not be immediately clear.

The five-minute rule states that you should always be willing to provide assistance if it will take you five minutes or less, regardless of who is asking for help. This encourages others to become givers as well, leading by example. It also makes others more likely to lend a hand when you need help.

Leaders who are givers recognize motivation, and they will devote themselves to helping develop employees who show a motivation to improve. Takers are always distrustful of others, and are less likely to offer assistance. They see another's improvement as a threat to them instead of a goal.

Dealing with takers

Any organization will have its fair share of givers, matchers and takers. Being a giver with everyone will result in finding yourself at the bottom of the ladder. When dealing with a taker, givers need to become matchers. This will keep you from overgiving, and help you to focus efforts on other givers and matchers instead of takers.

Don't become a people-pleaser

Givers naturally enjoy giving to others. This can lead to people-pleasing. Giving doesn't mean that you always say yes or go out of your way to make everyone like you. Leaders have to make tough decisions, and no one can please everyone all the time.

It's important to be respected as a giver, which means doing what's best for the organization instead of trying to please individuals or a certain group when it's time to make the hard calls. For example, if a layoff is in the best interest of the company, a giver will make that choice even though it will not be a popular one among the individuals who are laid off.

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 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 receive the monetary and emotional rewards of doing a job well done together.

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