Givers & Takers & Great Motivators

One of the things that most impressed me about Adam Grant’s thinking in his book Give and Take was that “givers” develop a devoted following in part because because they are such wonderful motivators. They are not the brash, hyper, rah-rah type of motivators, however, but the quietly persistent type – you know the ones. They seem to have an unshakable belief in the potential of others.

Takers don’t see potential in others because they are innately too distrustful and their agenda is “all about me.” Sadly, even those who takers are impressed by are seen as threats.

On the other hand, matchers (see Part 1) are better positioned to see the potential in people than takers, but they tend to wait too long to develop it. Because they need to see evidence or confirmation of potential by others, they miss out on opportunities to develop people who don’t immediately show talent or potential.

Givers don’t wait

Because givers are innately trusting of others, as leaders and managers they tend to see everyone as bloomers. Traditional leadership development models, however, are based on the opposite belief: that not everyone has potential. The traditional leadership model identifies talented individuals and then grooms those talented individuals for success.

Look at motivation first, talent second

That’s the wrong way to look at it, says Grant, and the research backs him up. Studies have proven that today’s world class pianists were not, in fact, star performers when they were young. In fact, their mothers often said it was their other child who had the greater talent! Why did they become stars? Because they were driven to succeed and they were coached by people who believed in them.

Interestingly, while their early coaches were givers, they were not particularly brilliant or talented. They were often just someone who lived and taught in the neighborhood. But as a result of the encouragement they received, plus their inner fire, these fledgling piano students and athletes were driven to put in Gladwell’s so-called “ten thousand hours” of deliberate practice (and probably more) which is needed to become the best.

Another example: When researchers studied top ranked tennis players, they discovered that their first tennis teachers weren’t exceptional coaches, but they were exceptional givers. They had the patience and “other” orientation to encourage young children to become interested enough in the sport of tennis to spend the massive number of practice hours needed for them to excel. But these coaches needed to see the motivation first before they would invest the time and effort needed to turn gangly kids into future stars.

In their roles as mentors and leaders, “givers resist the temptation to search for talent first.” Givers focus on gritty, motivated people because they know they will outperform the naturally talented who lack motivation. “It’s where givers have the greatest return on their investment, the most meaningful and lasting impact,” Grant says.

Givers like accounting professor C.J. Skender says you have to “push people, make them stretch and do more than they think possible.” He succeeded. Because Skender sees every one of his students as a talented “diamond in the rough” he instinctively tries to bring out the best in them, and they have responded. For years, Skender CPA students have “overachieved” on their accounting exams and have been at or near the top of the country’s list of CPA graduates. Skender succeeds not because he tries harder but because he believes in his students so deeply that their confidence soars. And confidence, as most of us know or learn, is 80 per cent of the battle in life.

That’s what makes Skender such a great leader even though he is “only” a teaching professor. He builds confidence in others. He does this by engaging in more supportive behavior and communicating more warmly. He also “gave them more challenging assignments, called on them more often, and provided them with more feedback.” That’s what givers do instinctively.

Givers succeed as leaders for two reasons 

How do they find the time? The most effective givers try to help as many people as they can, but they do it quickly. Networking expert Adam Rifkin has turned helping people into an art form. When he makes introductions and offers advice to people he doesn’t really know, he calls them five minute favors, because they help him focus his time and they take five minutes or less. By learning from givers like Rifkin, Grant became a better leader and a better teacher. Givers succeed by being strategic with their time and their energy and delegating their giving where possible. Grant put it this way:

First, it’s easier for leaders to multiply themselves and create networks of givers. To build cultures where that’s the norm and, as a result, to be able to delegate a lot of the giving to people around and below them. That provides an opportunity to spread their giving farther than people who are not at the top. […] The other advantage [giver] leaders have is it’s a lot easier to do these five-minute favors, which are very short bursts of energy and attention that leave a lasting impact on people.

Who wouldn’t respond to such a leader or manager?

I’ve been in and around the business world for quite a while and it would be a better world if more leaders acted this way. More research needs to be done on the impact these giver-leaders have on their companies’ bottom line. A new Jim Collins-type book featuring an exhaustive, multi-year study of global organizations might be in order.

What do you think?

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