At Coaching Right Now our values are an important part of our culture.
In 2021, we agreed to focus on cultivating our values of curiosity and generosity. As I started to think about what that meant for me and how I could cultivate these values, I couldn’t help but reflect on the generosity I have been shown by so many of the leaders I have been fortunate to work with over the course of my career. The “Leadership Gifts” they gave me are both big and small, and they are memorable.
There were many acts and moments I can look back on and realize the “Leadership Gift” I had been given. Let me share with you a few of the gifts I received, both big and small, which made a difference in my career.
The gift of time
Growing up in a small town in Illinois, I did not have the same exposure to the arts and culture that many of my big city peers did. To be successful in Professional Services, it was important to develop relationships with potential clients, many of whom were active philanthropists supporting the arts. Early in my career, one of my managers asked me if I would like to go to the art museum with him over lunch. He spent several hours sharing his love of art with me. I remember that gift as if it were yesterday and not 40 years ago!
The gift of honest feedback
I was hoping to land a leadership role in a different division where the subject matter expertise was different from my current expertise. I was disappointed when they offered me a role but not the leadership role I wanted. A previous boss, in his direct style, said, “Are you crazy? Do you think they are going to put you in the leadership role when they don’t know you or what you can do in this new area? Just take the role they offered you, go in there, and show them what you can do, and you’ll be the leader soon enough.” He was right; I took the role, and 6 months later, they promoted me to a role that put my career on a new wonderful trajectory. Without his candid feedback, I would probably not have taken the lateral move that led to so many great future roles. I remember the exact words from this leadership gift, and that occurred over 30 years ago!
The gift of a development program
When I first started leading a division, I almost gave up and went back to being project manager. I was responsible for a group of 20 people who had completely different backgrounds from me and approached their work in a very different way. My boss recognized the importance of providing me development at this critical transition point in my career. I participated in a development program that included several assessments and coaching. The assessments provided me with self-awareness and with the foundation to understand how to lead in different situations. The coaching allowed me to grow over time and put the insights from my assessments into action. This was a big Leadership gift as the cost of this program was not small. However, my manager saw potential that needed to be developed and was willing to invest. Without this generous gift, I would not have progressed to bigger leadership roles.
Think about the leadership gifts you have received and also the gifts you have given. Little acts can make a big difference. I have had colleagues of mine tell me years after the fact what a difference something I did meant to them and their career. Often times it was something I considered ordinary like assigning a stretch project to them, providing honest feedback, or encouraging further education. I was always extremely happy to know I made a positive difference for someone. On the other hand, I also know there were times when I could have been generous to more people and I can’t go back and redo those moments – those are lost opportunities to give a gift, and I wish I would have been more generous in those moments.
It’s easy to get busy and focused on the work ahead of you, particularly over this past year if you were not with the rest of your colleagues. Now more than ever people need our Leadership Gifts, our generosity. It’s important to reach out, connect with your colleagues, and share your time or whatever else you can that might help your colleagues.
Take some time to appreciate the “gifts” you have been given and the generosity people have showed you, and thank them if they are still in your life. Then, pay it forward be generous and give “leadership gifts” to others. Keep in mind that just like at the Holidays, not all gifts are perfect matches – some get returned, but very likely the person appreciated your generosity just the same!
You don’t give gifts expecting something in return, but in my experience, “leadership gifts” can yield a big return for the person who received them. Equally important is the impact giving has on you personally.
In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.
A study by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism could spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. “As a result,” they write, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”
Wouldn’t that be a great thing if your leadership gifts inspired a network of giving? So go ahead, give a Leadership Gift today. Don’t let an opportunity to be generous pass you by.