Be Generous at Work
This post was originally published in the Harvard Business Review.
If you took a poll of critical skills most important to business success, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a list that didn’t include vision, leadership, drive, ambition, or intellect. You’d be equally hard pressed to find one that included, much less led with, generosity. That generosity is important and valued isn’t news — but a key driver of success? That’s not often where it lands.
Generosity is more typically an afterthought, a by-product, a “nice-to-have” quality. If a manager or leader is generous, they’re probably well liked. But it’s more than that: Elegantly simple, yet extremely powerful, generosity can make your career.
Generous people share information readily, share credit often, and give of their time and expertise easily. What comes across is a strong work ethic, great communication skills, and a willingness and ability to collaborate. Leaders and managers who are generous engender trust, respect and goodwill from their colleagues and employees.
Here are 8 concrete ways to be generous at work:
Show a strong work ethic:
Make your boss’ life easier or better. Easier said than done, to be sure. But if you start with the specific goal of making your boss’ life easier or better, you’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll do personally. Put her agenda ahead of your own and watch as your star rises in tandem. Make her look smart in meetings, prep her before trips, provide as much value-add on projects and work towards the greater good. It will pay dividends.
Think about next steps so your boss (or board of directors) doesn’t have to. Always think about how you’re moving the ball forward. When you complete a project, take a moment to celebrate; then quickly shift gears to think about what comes next — implementation, execution, distribution? Don’t wait for your boss to ask the question — anticipate his questions and come armed and ready with a plan of action for moving forward.
Be a better communicator:
Lead with the punch line. When you are sharing information, start with what is new, different or important — so that your colleagues know the exact purpose of your conversation. Don’t make people guess at your meaning and don’t take five minutes to give someone an update that should only take two. Do the work for others in terms of processing information so they’re not left wondering: “What does he want from me?” “What am I supposed to do with this information?” Or worse yet, “What the heck is he talking about?”
Share information readily. Don’t hoard information; it makes you look power hungry and conniving. Keep your teams posted on where thing stand or what’s coming next. Make sure your subordinates have all of the information they need to make well-informed decisions. When assigning work, communicate your expectations clearly so people aren’t left wondering what you really want. And set your junior teams up for success by giving guidance so that they have the resources they need to get the job done well.
Always ask if someone has a moment to speak. Just because someone picks up the phone or has their door open doesn’t mean it’s a good time to talk. Before you launch into a dialogue about tomorrow’s meeting or start shooting off questions, ask if they have a minute for you. Give them an “out” if its’ not a good time to catch up. Offer to come back later or ask to get on their calendar. You’ll get better results when you have the other person’s full attention. You’ll come off as respectful and professional. And people will probably start taking your calls.
Be a better collaborator:
Share credit easily. People love to be told they’re doing a great job. Go ahead and recognize your staff regularly for either a job well done or extraordinary effort. It doesn’t cost you anything. Amazingly, it’s not always just about the money. Fully 78% of employees say it’s “extremely important” to be recognized by their managers for good work. So send an email to the top brass and mention the great work of your team (by name) or give them a shout out in the next staff meeting.
Mentor. Be gracious with your time and your expertise and contribute to the collective learning available to those around you. Don’t let all the brilliance you’ve gathered over the years go to waste. Your professional highs and lows are equally valuable to those just starting out in the workplace. Concede your mistakes, highlight your proud moments, give feedback and offer guidance. Take the time and interest to help develop your junior team and build up your bench.
Assume collective responsibility for failure; assign individual praise for success. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban once made a comment about a star player’s missed game-tying free throw shot. Cuban said: “He made the first shot and we missed the second.” Cuban’s comment was distinctively subtly, but inherently generous — he gave his player credit for making the first shot without assigning blame for missing the second one. A simple “we” instead of a “he” reminded everyone that basketball is a team sport. So is the workplace.
On an individual basis, these concepts are not difficult to master. Collectively, however, they represent a powerful approach to working with your colleagues and your team — one that will help you earn your way to the top.