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Why being generous is an essential trait of a great leader

Generosity is not charity. It is an act of reaching out to our colleagues and signalling to them how important they are to us

We can be generous by listening to our colleagues with genuine care and respect, rather than hurrying through a conversation because we wish to get to our next task, or multitasking with digital messages during a chat. (Jayachandran)

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Many years ago, when I was working at Titan, I was keen to write my first book, themed on the Tata group. I requested a meeting with R. Gopalakrishnan, at that time the executive director of Tata Sons. He was then one of the senior-most leaders of the Tata group, and an accomplished author himself. I was not sure whether he would be in a position to provide me any time at all, amid all his busy engagements.

To my surprise, he gave me more than an hour of his time, to discuss the theme of my book, why I wanted to write it, and also the specific stories that could feature in it. When I was in the process of writing the book in the library of the Tata Management Training Centre in Pune, he came to the centre one weekend, to talk about how my writing was progressing and offer some suggestions. And, finally, he read the entire manuscript and agreed to write the foreword to the book.

It was very generous of him. He provided a rookie writer like me his encouragement, and shared his expertise, all in the midst of a busy schedule. The support helped me publish my first book and start my writing journey.

This episode also made me realise how generosity is a wonderful trait displayed by so many great leaders and wonderful colleagues. Generosity is not charity. It is an act of reaching out to our team members or peers and signalling to them how important they are to us. It is an act of kindness that is incredibly motivating to the receiver and equally fulfilling to the giver, and it, thereby, creates even stronger bonding and team spirit within organisations.

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How can we practice everyday generosity within our workplace ? Here are a few thoughts on this subject.

Listening and sharing

We can be generous by listening to our colleagues with genuine care and respect, rather than hurrying through a conversation because we wish to get to our next task, or multitasking with digital messages during a chat. This requires investment of time and conscious effort, but when we feel that we are being truly listened to, we feel valued. This, in turn, can enhance our motivation and productivity.

Generosity is also about sharing all required information readily. We need to resist the urge to hoard information because this signals selfishness to everyone around, and it never helps enhance team spirit. We are drawn to leaders who share necessary information with us quickly, tell us where things stand and what is likely to come up soon. Often, our leaders possess this information because they have the networks and perspectives that we may not have.

One of the finest ways of being generous is to publicly share credit for work that has gone well, and where other team members have genuinely contributed. All this requires is an appropriate mention during a meeting, or an appreciative email to the people concerned.

One of my colleagues is particularly good at doing this, and I find that his team members are far more eager to contribute, even to challenging tasks at hand.

The need for authentic recognition of our efforts sits deep within all of us.

All about giving

Generosity is about enhancing the give-take ratio in our professional relationships. So many of us are experts at the hustle, totally focused on getting what we require from our colleagues and from other teams. That’s perhaps necessary, but do we also focus on how much we give them? Giving our time to help brainstorm ideas for a project that is owned by someone else, giving opportunities by opening doors or providing contacts, giving our expertise to help a young team member, or giving a friend who has received poor feedback a shoulder to cry on.

As leaders, when we give generously, we also set the norm for the behaviours we wish to see in our teams.

Doing the unexpected

Sometimes, generosity is about creating delight by doing far more than what is expected, or even doing the unexpected.

Recently, at the finals of Tata IPL (Indian Premier League), I saw the iconic Indian cricketer Kapil Dev. I went up to him and asked him for a selfie that I could send to my sister, who is such a big Kapil Dev fan that she has kept every single press clipping of his matches.

Kapil Dev took me totally by surprise. He told me not to settle for a selfie, and instead he asked me for my sister’s name and recorded a personalised video message addressed to her, on my mobile phone—a small, generous gesture by an icon, which will last in my sister’s mind forever. The workplace provides us many such opportunities to create lovely moments that will be treasured by our colleagues for a lifetime. If Kapil Dev can, why can’t we ?

True generosity is about being generous to people who are junior to us, or to our peers, or even to people we do not know. On the other hand, when we are super nice to our bosses in order to please or delight them, but somewhat stingy and close-fisted with our team members, that does not fall in any category of generosity.

A final word. Generosity does not imply compromising on the quality of work. Not at all. On the other hand, it is an essential leadership behaviour in any workplace which wishes to achieve sustained world-class excellence. Simply because great performance requires people with great motivation, and generosity is one of the key triggers that makes our spirits fly.

Also read: Every work desk tells a story. What does yours say?

Harish Bhat works with the Tata group. He acknowledges the generous inputs he has received from his colleague Suparna Mitra of Titan, which have made this column possible.

 

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