There are always new books being published about what makes people successful, how to win, how to climb the corporate ladder, how to influence, lead and manage, and myriad other “formulas” for creating wealth and success.
I read many of these books to learn about the most recent research and how it can be helpful to my clients, but it’s not often that I get to hear an author in person. Recently, as an executive coach at the Wharton School MBA Program, I was fortunate to attend a seminar by Adam Grant, the renowned social scientist at the University of Pennsylvania (Photo at right).
I was especially intrigued by his new book, Give and Take (Viking, 2013), which is based on the concept that giving is a more productive way to work. (Grant was highlighted in a recent cover story in The N.Y Times magazine.)
His basic premise is that the "givers" in the world are happier, have more focus and willpower, create more successful teams, are better negotiators and make more money. Giving people care about others, go out of their way to develop others, are fair and honorable in what they do, are empathetic in their interactions, and view the world as a trustworthy place.
Importantly, a giver is authentic in behavior as opposed to being a "matcher" — someone who Grant describes as operating on the principle of: “You do for me, and I will do for you.” Givers also contrast with the “takers” who try to fake giving in order to get what they want with little regard for others.
Like you, I was particularly interested in how, or whether, Grant’s approach would work in the specialized IT arena because many of my coaching clients are CIOs, CTOs or directors of risk, cybersecurity or IT audit. I also teach a graduate class at Temple University's Fox School of Business for students in IT audit and cybersecurity.
When I asked the author about this, he responded that for IT and CIOs, "building a culture of givers is a key step toward encouraging knowledge-sharing, which in turn promotes creativity and innovation.”
Give and Take isn’t naïve, but it may be counterintuitive to what we have been taught about business in the past. It is optimistic and looks at the world of work and how "giving" affects all aspects of life, teams, salary and happiness. It’s an approach that’s certainly worth consideration by IT leaders whose success is increasingly dependent on interactions with others. I know I will be sharing some of the surprising insights in this book with my clients and students. Among these:
1. “Powerless communication” is a way of communicating that makes people seem more approachable, warmer, more trustworthy and humble. “When givers use powerless speech, they show us that they have our best interests at heart," according to Grant. A leader who is a giver can use powerful speech, as well as powerless speech.
Here is a link to Adam grant giving a TEDxEast talk on “The Power of Powerless Communication.”
2. “Takers” typically spend more time talking and less time listening. They also have a more difficult time accepting the ideas of others, especially if they conflict with their own. Grant writes: "Whereas takers often strive to be the smartest people in the room, givers are more receptive to expertise from others, even if it challenges their own beliefs." For the CIO and the IT team to succeed, the best ideas must be heard — regardless of where they originate.
3) Givers seek advice from others by asking questions, asking for input and recommendations. "When we seek advice from others, they feel flattered, and are more inclined to take our perspectives and become our advocates,” writes Grant.
4) Offer help and seek help as well. ”If you want other people to be givers, one of the easiest steps is to ask for help,” according to the book. This gives people a chance to feel valued and needed. Reunite with dormant colleagues and offer to help them or connect them with others.
Research has shown that givers are represented at the top of organizations in the same proportion as takers. One of the major differences is that givers care about those around them, their teams, their partners and their customers, as well as those with no direct relationship to them. In other words, givers are other-directed, not self-directed.
The CIO and the IT team must listen and ask questions, be influential and have teams that are valued and trusted. These traits make it not only possible, but necessary for the IT world to be filled with "other-focused individuals," i.e., givers. After all, their job is to make the organization — both internal intellectual capital and external customers — secure and safe in an increasingly impersonal world.
So are you a giver, a matcher or a taker? Grant has a free online survey on his website. I’d welcome your thoughts and feedback as well.