What does ‘being generous’ have to do with great leadership and achieving strong business results?

When we think of generosity we often think of donating money or volunteering our time for a charity. We don’t often think of generosity in terms of great leadership.

Frank Blake, former CEO and Chairman of Home Depot and former direct report at GE to Jack Welch, was being interviewed and recalled the time he asked Welch, “Of all the attributes of leadership, if you had to weigh them all and pick one, what is the single most important attribute of leadership?” And this is what Welch had to say, “The single most important attribute of leadership is generosity.”

Welch went on to share how important it is for leaders to understand at a very deep level, that their success is dependent on the success of others.

Generous leaders increase the capacity of others which in turn helps organizations to scale more quickly. Opportunities to show generosity can show up in many ways; giving someone a chance, giving permission to make mistakes, giving autonomy to make decisions, giving credit, giving someone the benefit of the doubt.  These are all acts of generosity and translate into creating an environment where people can thrive and grow, an environment where people are fully engaged.

To have an engaged workforce, people need to be connected to the value they bring, feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, they need to find meaning in their job, no matter what that job is. A generous leader understands this need and takes time to connect the dots for people between their daily tasks and how that contributes to the ultimate vision and success of the organization.

It is easy to get disconnected from the people in your organization when you are focused on strategy, competitors, and dealing with large challenges. We forget that it is only through the people in our organization that we can realize our dreams of success.

Generosity is both a mindset and a practice. It is actively and consciously investing your time and energy into supporting, mentoring, and coaching others. When leaders focus on the growth and needs of others, they create a sense of loyalty and purpose that drives productivity, collaboration, creativity, and innovation, which translates into great business results.

Here are some ways to up your generosity…

Fostering Empathy: A Key to Unlocking Team Potential

Leading with empathy is not about just being kind. The Oxford Dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.  Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, is quoted as saying that empathy is the “hardest skill we learn”. And yet it is a skill every leader should care about. Under Nadella’s empathic leadership, Microsoft has experienced significant growth and innovation.

Being an empathetic leader allows you to connect with your team at a deeper level. When we connect with people at a deeper level it builds trust. And trust is the foundation of great teams. When a leader builds an environment of trust, it encourages people to take risks, collaborate, try new things, share innovative ideas which leads to greater performance and increased employee engagement.

Empathy gives you the power to be a great communicator and can be leveraged to give you more influence in your relationships. This attribute enables you to “read the room” thus addressing issues proactively. Empathetic leaders can create a supportive and understanding environment where everyone feels valued and heard.

Being empathetic enhances self-awareness by allowing us to understand and adapt to others’ emotions effectively. It’s like having a finely tuned antenna for picking up on subtle cues in conversation and adjusting our behavior accordingly. Recognizing when others are feeling down or need support is crucial, as it helps us connect on a deeper level and respond appropriately to their needs. This level of empathy fosters a more supportive and understanding environment in both personal and professional settings.

We show empathy and generosity when we give specific feedback. Generic feedback does not give a person any useful information.  Consider the difference between these two pieces of feedback:

Generic – “Great job on the research you did for that client presentation.”

Specific – “I really appreciate the time and attention you put into the research for that client presentation. You really connected with what is important for them. Your contribution helped us win that deal!”

Specific feedback not only acknowledges the effort and skill of the individual but also communicates that their contributions are valued and recognized. By highlighting the particular aspects of their work that were impressive, such as attention to detail or understanding the client’s needs, it reinforces positive behavior and encourages continued excellence. This personalized approach fosters a sense of importance and appreciation, motivating individuals to perform at their best and strengthen their connection to the team and organization.

To practice your empathy skills, your daily reflection might look like this:

  • Who would benefit from my generosity today?
  • Who can I compliment or acknowledge today?
  • Who have I noticed might benefit from some special attention?
  • Whose opinion don’t I agree with right now. How can I get curious and ask good questions to further understand their perspective?

Embracing a Loving Leadership Style

When you entered into your first leadership position, did you go into it thinking that ‘being loving’ was an integral trait of great leadership?

One large international organization we work with has this motto when it comes to leadership, “Every person deserves a great leader.”  Not, “It would be nice if everyone had a great leader”, or “Let’s try to provide great leadership”…NO, the word ‘deserves’ sets a much stronger expectation. In order to be a great leader to everyone on your team, the spirit of generosity and ‘being loving’ is necessary to provide a solid foundation.

Being loving toward your team members can be manifested in many ways but overall, it is about really seeing each person as a human being.  It means recognizing their humanity and putting their needs ahead of your own. This mindset fosters positivity and inspires an optimistic atmosphere. When you love the people you work with, you will go the extra mile for them, and in the business world, that is the foundation for a successful team.

One of the great things a “loving leader” brings to the table is the ability to hold onto a strong optimistic mindset when the going gets tough. In times of change and uncertainty, people like to look for comfort in their leaders, thus, as a leader you can use your optimism to make your team feel safe and motivated. Looking back at the recent shift to remote work, the leaders that embraced the hybrid work model and looked for the positive in the situation, ended up with happier and more motivated teams. By embracing change with a positive outlook, they created an environment where everyone felt supported and excited to tackle new challenges together.

Being generous with your time is a key aspect of demonstrating love and care for your team members. When business picks up, it’s easy to get caught up in your priority tasks, but taking the time to support colleagues can have a significant impact on team productivity and morale. Sharing even just a small amount of time can save others valuable time. 10 minutes of your time might save a team member 1 hour of their time. Recognizing and acting on this fosters a culture of collaboration and mutual support. Leading by example in this regard encourages a reciprocal attitude among team members, creating a more harmonious and efficient work environment.

To practice ‘being loving, your daily reflection might look like this:

  • Who would benefit from 10 minutes of my time today?
  • Who might benefit from some additional resources?
  • What’s the positive message I want to share throughout the day?
  • What’s a small act of kindness I can do today?

Problem Solving Through Generous Leadership

The final key value to generosity is its impact on problem-solving. Generous leaders prioritize supporting their peers and team members, which fosters a collaborative environment where issues are addressed efficiently and effectively.  

Generosity fosters an environment of trust. When team members feel supported and valued, they’re more likely to openly share ideas and perspectives without fear of judgment. This creates a diverse pool of perspectives to draw from when problem-solving, leading to more creative and innovative solutions. Additionally, generous leaders are often more willing to listen and consider others’ viewpoints, which can lead to more inclusive decision-making processes and ultimately better problem-solving outcomes.

While resources may be limited, strategic generosity can still make a significant difference in supporting others’ development and fostering self-reliance—the greatest give you can give another person is to help them become self-reliant.

Overall, generosity promotes a culture of teamwork and cooperation, which are essential ingredients for effective problem-solving.

To practice increasing your problem solving skills, your daily reflection might look like this:

  • What recurring issue is creating an obstacle right now? What would be the impact of resolving this issue?
  • Who can I pull together to brainstorm solutions?
  • Who might benefit from getting the opportunity to lead a problem-solving effort?
  • Whose diverse perspective do I need to seek out today?

A beautiful sentiment of generosity is wrapped up nicely in this quote by Nelson Henderson, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

Generosity in leadership is about putting others above yourself without expecting anything in return.  Interestingly enough, when we don’t expect anything in return, we tend to get much higher returns!

If you could quickly boost team collaboration, increase creative problem solving and innovation, improve talent utilization and retention, how would that impact your business? How could upping your generosity make you a better leader? If you want to learn more about how RQ can help your leadership, check out our leadership development workshops.

To practice being more generous, your daily reflection might look like this:

  • What does generosity look like for me?
  • What prevents me from being generous?
  • How do I feel when I am being generous? When I am not being generous?
  • What’s the bigger impact I can have if I demonstrate more generosity?