In 2007, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a season for the ages. He shattered the NFL touchdown record while leading the Patriots to a perfect 16-0 regular season. Like all leaders, a quarterback, even one as great as Brady, depends on his team. Few teammates are more important than linemen, the guys who protect the quarterback from charging 300-pound defensemen. Although casual fans can easily name several quarterbacks, most cannot name a single lineman. Linemen rarely become superstars. However, Tom Brady recognized the role his lineman played in his success. After the 2007 season, he surprised all of them with brand-new Audi Q7 SUVs. Many other NFL quarterbacks have also treated their linemen to gifts from ATVs to hot tubs.
Hundreds of leadership books focus on individual drive, ambition, and perseverance. Far fewer books focus on the virtues of gratitude and generosity. However, gratitude and generosity are critical leadership attributes. All leaders must engage with teammates, subordinates, and other stakeholders. A leader alone is no leader at all. Generosity can motivate colleagues and drive organizational success.
Great business leaders have long appreciated the importance of generosity. Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric stated that the “‘generosity gene’ is the one unique characteristic that all great leaders have.” During his career, Welch devoted thousands of hours to developing and leading executive trainings. His willingness to give his time reflected his view that business is a team sport. Welch also believed that generosity provides practical benefits. As he explained, if you, “take care of your people, let them know where they stand, cheer them, never take credit for what they do, and they’ll go to the moon for you.”
The science of generosity
Welch’s perspectives have been supported by social science researchers. In his book, Give and Take, Wharton Professor Adam Grant explores how generosity managers and employee generosity impacts performance. Grant found that teams led by a giving and generous manager are happier, more effective, and more productive than other teams. It is hardly surprising that treating people better makes them happier. What is fascinating in Grant’s research is how the generosity trickles down. When a manager is more generous, employees work harder and provide significantly better customer and client service. Companies that offered opportunities for employees to give back to their communities saw improvements in job satisfaction and performance. Generous employees are promoted more quickly than their more self-focused peers.
The benefits of generosity extend well beyond the workplace. People who are generous are physically healthier on average. They have lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been linked to a variety of diseases. A remarkable Harvard experiment demonstrated that generosity can actually make you happier. Researchers gave subjects cash and asked the subjects to purchase a gift for themselves or for someone else. Subjects who spent the windfall on someone else felt more satisfied and remained happier for longer.
With the holiday season now behind us, giving may be fading from our minds. How can we maintain the giving spirit throughout the year? First, we should recognize that while we often think of financial generosity, there are many ways to be generous. This is especially true in the workplace. We can be generous with our time. We can be generous in showing appreciation for others. We can be generous by providing constructive feedback. We can be generous with our knowledge. Think about your workplace and consider how you can give more to your colleagues. Even if you do not buy your co-workers Audis, ATVs, or hot tubs, you will find that a little generosity works wonders.