Generosity: The Root Of Great Leadership

“What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”                       

Albert Pike

American Lawyer and Journalist


I wrote a blog two years ago (almost to the day) entitled, “We’re All Selfish – So Why Hide It?”  In it, I suggested that great leaders must have the courage to acknowledge that they have selfish interests in their work, to admit what they most want and then collaborate with others to meet their needs and the needs of the greater good, too.

My work with firms and individuals since then has only reaffirmed my belief that selfish interest drives us in our work and, when it is subconscious or overpowering, damages an organization’s teamwork, inspiration and ultimately, its growth and progress.  While pondering the impact of selfishness, I have recently begun to examine the special and rare “opposite” human characteristic:  GENEROSITY and its impact on leaders, their people and their organizations when it is present.

As I do with every problem I’m working to solve, I have started reading, praying and talking with others about generosity.  In this blog, I’d like to start a dialogue with you on the subject.  I know that my generosity journey will drive changes in my behavior and I hope it will result in the development of a course to highlight the importance of generosity and its tie to leadership success.

The word comes from “of noble birth” and once applied to people of means giving back to the community because they had a certain level of privilege and responsibility in their position.  As a leader in your firm, you also have a level of privilege and responsibility, so how are you giving back?

Often times, we think of generosity as having to do with money, but there is more to it.  In our work, there are many ways we can be generous, including:

  • Sharing our time – ensuring others (our people, partners, and clients) feel we spend enough time with them, not making others feel rushed, scheduling regular meetings with people we are leading so they feel our interest in supporting them, taking the time to get to know others beyond the surface of our work together, scheduling community service days as an individual or for your firm as a whole
  • Giving in spirit – giving people the benefit of the doubt (or applying hopeful interpretations to others as we teach in our conflict courses), giving people latitude to make decisions or choices, forgiving people’s mistakes, giving up petty grievances, giving people praise and acknowledgement for a job well done, giving up having it be done our way or having a decision go our way
  • Conveying our knowledge – sharing our experiences, developing and teaching classes, holding lunch and learns, allowing others to shadow our work, delivering constructive feedback, transitioning clients and projects that are now easy for us but a challenge for others, forwarding interesting articles and other content that can benefit those around us
  • Sharing our bounty – ensuring our fellow team members share credit for team and firm successes, sharing financial rewards when they are received, introducing team members to referral sources and key prospects they can benefit from knowing, not taking as much compensation as we reduce our contributions, so that others can begin to see the fruits of their labors

Most of all, I think true leadership generosity is making investments in our people that may reduce short-term earnings for the firm – and for us – but will ensure the sustainability of the firm longer-range.  What do you think?  Where does generosity fit in leadership?  What generous acts can you add to this list?  How generous are you?  How generous is your firm?  Please join me in this dialogue!

“The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.”

Albert Einstein