The give and take of leadership

adamgrantI turned on the radio this weekend in time to hear a portion of this interview with organizational psychologist Adam Grant. He has written a book called Give and Take that looks at social exchanges in the workplace.

Grant’s idea is that some people tend to be takers, wanting to receive as much as possible from interactions; while other people are givers, wanting to promote others’ welfare without needing to receive something in return.  Most of us are matchers, who want an equal balance in social trades.  While each preference has its own set of challenges, giving can lead to surprising levels of success at work.

During the brief segment that I heard, Grant made two interesting points.  First, he talked about the importance of being able to both give and take.  He said that successful givers are also comfortable asking for help. As leaders, our role is to create organizational cultures where seeking help from colleagues is encouraged.

Secondly, Grant talked about the “five minute favor.”  This is something you can do, in a relatively short amount of time, that benefits someone else.  Examples include writing a letter of reference, sharing expertise, or introducing two colleagues who can collaborate with each other. There is no expectation that the recipient will return the favor, although some may suggest that they “pay it forward” in the future.

As we begin to look at customer service, this idea seemed particularly timely.  Many of the top-notch customer service interactions I’ve experienced resulted from someone going above and beyond expectations with no strings attached. And as Grant described, some of these experiences were not weighty and time-consuming.  A simple thank you, or time spent explaining a complicated process, made me feel valued.

Have you done a five-minute favor recently?  What was the result?

–Dee Anne Bonebright


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