Getting Ahead by Being a Giver

lightbulbs on the floor
Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What makes a person successful in a job?

Often, career coaches cite “having a plan,” “ambition,” “focus,” “determination,” and other similar traits as the keys to success. But Adam Grant, the youngest full professor at the Wharton School, has different ideas. His first book, Give and Take, specifically sets out the case for altruism as a trait that marks one for greatness.

In his book, Grant divides people into three types: Matchers, Takers, and Givers:

Matchers: People are usually willing to help out if they can see some benefit to themselves. People who show up every day, do their jobs, and pitch in on projects that they think will help them get an edge in their career are Matchers. Grant says that most people fit into this group. 

Takers: Some people always look for an angle and may even be willing to sacrifice the long-term good of a team or company in order to get ahead. In his book, Grant calls these people Takers. 

Givers: Givers are defined as people who are willing to perform selfless acts “with no expectation of reciprocity.”

The big idea in Grant's book is that the Givers are the ones who will actually be most successful. Why?

Grant acknowledges that if you were to plot the three groups on a bell curve of success, Givers would be over-represented at both the top and the bottom deciles. The danger for Givers is that they often over-reach their ability to provide assistance, leaving them ineffective because they are spread too thin. 

In the long run, Givers create the best and most loyal network of professional colleagues. Givers are more likely to share credit and to let others promote work that the Givers participated in. This instills a sense of trust, so when the Givers need help, they are more easily able to recruit assistance.

In contrast, Takers usually sprint ahead of the pack with their short-term gains, but when they are discovered, fellow employees are likely to single them out as troublemakers. Their political capital disappears, and they have more limited access to resources and assistance.

Matchers don't fall into the same traps as either Givers or Takers, but often are seen as calculating. According to Grant, “matchers often leave a transactional impression, as if they’re always keeping score.“ So while they don't make suffer negative impacts, they also don't distinguish themselves.

The takeaway? Become known as someone who is willing to help without expecting a return. Also, make sure you're not spread too thin, so that you can actually achieve according to expectations. 

In the long run, your reputation as a Giver will motivate your professional colleagues to want to work on your projects, and to help you reach your career goals.   

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photo credit: Marc Wathieu via photopin cc

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