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Published: 12 Dec 2021

Great leaders know that you need to give to receive

A while ago people started posting on their social media when they’d engaged in a ‘random act of kindness’. Since then, we’ve clapped NHS workers and helped older people who may live near us. So, is a random act of kindness more than a fad and something that we should make part of the way we are?

And whilst these acts generally take place outside of the workplace should leaders learn something valuable from it? Can they give and receive something in return?

Aside from the goodwill amongst their employees and perhaps a slight uptick, eventually, in the annual engagement or opinion survey, leaders benefit from much more.

Research undertaken in Baltimore and Tennessee concluded that giving can have a positive effect on the stress levels of the giver as well as encouraging the person receiving to feel positive sentiment towards them. So not only may giving induce a degree of goodwill, it may also have a beneficial impact biologically.

As Jack Welch says in an interview titled 'What is the role of a leader?' you have to have a generosity gene’. Being generous is one of the things that a great leader can do.

In one of the workshops we run on leadership, a junior leader commented, that helping others made them feel good. So, our reply was, ‘so how can you do more?’

When thinking about how to give in the workplace perhaps we should consider two things, what to do and when to do it?

The best form of giving, we say, is ‘in the moment’. Catching someone doing something good and recognising it is a powerful tool in encouraging people to do more of the good thing. Let’s step back a little first though - it does require there to be the best conditions in place to enable good work. Often this means giving people the permission, the ability and the desire.

So rather than walk past their desk on the way to your office or starting the agenda on the project tasks to be done, spending a little time just asking how people are works. It’s not just that though, leaders can do a range of things:

  • Schedule specific time to talk about the employee – and maintain it regularly

  • Give public recognition (these budgets are usually underspent)

  • Be clear in what autonomy to make decisions their people have

  • Back them up when they make mistakes

  • Push them forward to your line manager for recognitionAsk them to deputise (you’ll also free-up your diary which isn’t a bad thing)

  • Notice good examples, no matter how small, recognise and celebrate them

Yes, work can be busy, it can be problematic but practically how long does it take to praise or notice someone, seconds. So before we get emails from leaders saying its easy to say but less easy to do, try spending 30 seconds today telling someone how much you think of their work.

Is it a slippery slope and will giving a little precious leadership time now mean giving even more later? Perhaps, but if the time you give now encourages better work, improved wellbeing, higher quality, less waste, greater satisfaction, increased engagement – why would you not do it?

Leadership is about managing through others. By having a positive effect on skills, knowledge, support, attitude, and willingness...

By the way, the greatest leaders don’t do it because they want to look like rock stars, they just do it because it’s the right thing to do.

Mayfly run leadership events for between 10 and 20 managers and junior leaders. We also work closely with smaller groups of senior leaders. Contact us to discuss your thoughts on how you’d like help in connecting more with your people.

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