How generous are you?

by | Dec 11, 2023 | Leadership

Generosity can be a sensitive topic at this time of year given the often fraught territory of giving and receiving presents.

This post is about a different type of generosity – generosity of spirit (as in attitude not alcohol) rather than gifts.

Let me start by asking you a question. If someone makes a mistake, whether a team member, a spouse, a child, what’s your first thought :

a) Oh for goodness sake! Why can’t they get it right?

b) Everyone makes mistakes – they’re only human

c) What mistake?!

When I started working with Robert*, a marketing director, he was in camp “a” and he didn’t like himself for it. When a team member made an error, say in an important report, Robert would immediately lose trust in their work.

He’d go into micromanager mode, diving into the situation and taking over to make sure the output was how he wanted it. Robert was painfully aware that this had the effect of disempowering his reports, not to mention being a poor use of his time.

Is it about them … or you?

Robert’s experiences growing up and in early adulthood meant he was hypervigilant. He’d experienced many situations where, if he did or said the wrong thing, other people reacted badly.

Like Robert, many of us have been brought up to believe that there is a “right” way of doing things and that we will be reproached or rejected if we make errors.

His reaction to other people’s mistakes wasn’t just about ensuring quality output – he was fearful for his reputation. Even though he was well-established and highly respected, he felt that he was walking on thin ice that could crack at any moment. 

What if?

Rather than getting into the nitty gritty of what Robert could do differently, we explored the concept of generosity. What if he adopted an attitude of generosity instead of criticism?

Instead of assuming his team members were just being careless, what else might be going on? Perhaps they were experiencing alot of pressure, or distracted by a personal issue, or they just didn’t have the experience to pick up on something obvious to Robert.

What happened if he took a moment to consider what he appreciated about the individual and what their strengths were, rather than their shortcomings?

And what if nothing needed correcting? What if Robert’s way of doing things wasn’t the only “right” answer?

The cloak of generosity

Robert has found that putting on his “cloak of generosity” has helped him step back and give himself and others space rather than diving in. He takes the time to understand where his team members are coming from and coach them rather than take over.

Robert still finds this hard to do when the pressure is high. He still needs to learn to believe in and trust himself in order to be able to extend trust to others.

Swap criticism for generosity

Being generous rather than critical – of both myself and others – is something I struggle with too.

Working for myself,  it’s my husband who is most likely to bear the brunt of my criticism whether he’s made a mess or forgotten to do something. I’m working on recalibrating my perception of what matters and what doesn’t, and practising appreciation instead of castigation. 

Perhaps you might want to try this too this Christmas if a family member isn’t doing things the way you think they should be done! 

I will end with this quote from author Patti Digh – the words I’ve emboldened really resonated with me : “Generosity has little to do with giving gifts, and everything to do with giving space to others to be who they are.”

In the meantime, I wish you a lovely Christmastime and a happy, healthy, fulfilling and successful year ahead. 

*Robert is a fictional Director based on real-life clients

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps senior managers and directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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