There’s a little voice in my head that says I need to write more about actionable tactics, more how-to and less philosophy. Then I remember my own advice of choosing truth over strategy and it leads me right back to these words because they are the truth, a truth I’ve learned by slogging it out in life. While this kind of piece probably won’t land me on the cover of Fortune magazine I am certain of the power of generosity and its ability to transform people. And when you transform people it eventually shows up on the bottom line. So, maybe Fortune should call me after all.
We’re all a mixed bag of contradictions. I feel and see the world around me deeply yet I’ve spent most of my life holding my own feelings close. I’m reserved, sometimes to the point of coming across as unapproachable, yet I am a natural care-giver/fixer and will jump in to help without hesitation.
A few years ago I started examining these contradictions, looking for a through line. I discovered the commonality was a lack of generosity. Ouch. I was great at giving of my time and my talents, but generosity of words and emotion was lacking. I tried convincing myself it wasn’t so bad because my particular “love language” is one of deeds. While true, it doesn’t exempt me from giving in other ways.
Spoken words were (are) the trickiest for me. For my nearest and dearest the words flowed easily, but outside my inner circle I hoarded praise and acknowledgement like they were in short supply. It felt so awkward, so forward, so presumptuous to assume that anyone would care what I thought. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not shy. I’m a greet you with a “Good morning,” please and thank you kind of person. I ask the bank teller about his day. Friendly. Polite. A ready smile. All good qualities for navigating the world, but I was looking for more — a connection beyond niceties with the people outside my closely held inner circle.
Once you know something you have two choices — ignore it or take action. Ignoring would have been easier but that nudge to share more of myself and to learn different ways of giving wasn’t going away. It started with a few words here and there. Simple.
Straightforward. I committed to putting words to the positive things I was seeing: You look great today. You were really patient with that customer. Thank you for helping me understand this.
In the doing I gained courage. In the doing I became energized for more…
…I worked up the courage to speak my heart to a colleague. It was clear to me how she was limiting herself but I was terrified I’d sound like a know-it-all. My words were met with silence then with a rush of emotion she said, “You’re right. That’s exactly what I needed to hear right now.” Hint: If you’ve been given the ability to see something and your intentions are pure you’re obligated to share. Anything less is selfish.
…I dared to cross an imaginary boundary with a respected client. “I see this problem you have and I can help you figure it out.” Despite the lump in my throat and my racing heart I put it all on the table. All the while thinking, “What the hell am I doing? He must think I’m a lunatic. Who do I think I am? Fraud!” Months later he sent a thank you note that said, “And to think, this all started with an observation you made.” Hint: If you’ve been given the ability to see something and your intentions are pure you’re obligated to share. Anything less is selfish.
…Fed up with the “standard” way of doing business I approached a potential partner, “Look, this is a bit unconventional but here’s what works best for us and I think it serves you too.” They agreed. Hint: If you’ve been given the ability to see something and your intentions are pure you’re obligated to share. Anything less is selfish.
Three and a half years into this experiment I’m slightly bruised because leaving your comfort zone is never without setbacks. Yet, I am totally in awe of what happens when I step out of my protective little cocoon. When I dare to be more open it changes me. In the best scenarios it changes the other person too. There is so much empty space in this world just begging to be filled with generosity, especially in the places we’re most afraid to act on it, like in business.
Try it for yourself. Start small. Give a little more. Give in a way that’s uncomfortable to you. Bigger. Wider. More often.
Beware. Generosity transforms people. And people transform the bottom line.