Grow your Business by Being More Generous
By: Bob Rosen, author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World (Jossey-Bass, 2013) and Tony Rutigliano
Perhaps the veracity of no old adage has benefitted more from scientific research than that of this favorite of mothers, teachers, and preachers: “It is better to give than to receive.”
An ever-growing body of hard evidence supports the notion that generosity enhances our physical and emotional well-being and has tremendous benefits for the social structures we inhabit, including our workplaces. What’s more, generosity begets gratitude, another positive emotion with tremendous power for generating good feelings and great outcomes.
Hard-Wired for Kindness
Belying the evidence of TV news, human beings are hard-wired for kindness. Evidence suggests that our genetic ancestors with a higher capacity for giving increased had a greater likelihood for survival. Two studies by the University of Michigan bear this out.
One pointed to greater mental and physical health tied to generosity. Another which tracked 2,700 people over a 10-year span, showed that men who performed volunteer work regularly had mortality rates that were two-and-one-half times lower than men who were not generous with their time.
Study after study shows that practicing generosity reduces stress and contributes to stronger immunity to illness.
Having examined 500 scientific studies on the power of unselfishness, Case Western Reserve University bio ethicist Stephen Post noted, "It's abundantly clear from a number of studies that people who live generous lives also live happier lives."
On the other hand, parsimony seems to do little to help us lead better, healthier lives. Canadian social psychologist Liz Dunn in her vast research discovered a link between stinginess -- and the shame people have in being stingy -- and higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
As reported in Scientific American, Dunn examined cortisol levels in subjects who responded in experiments with the choice of giving money away or keeping it for themselves. She found that the more money people chose to keep in the experiment, the greater shame they felt -- and the higher their cortisol levels were.
What’s Your Purpose?
One reason that generosity makes us feel good is because it gives us a greater sense of purpose in our lives. Our minds and bodies are built for more than mere survival. They have the capacity for social and emotional drives that give us greater meaning. For a variety of reasons, many people have never asked themselves, “What is my purpose here? Am I meant to do more with my life than take care of myself?”
Finding an answer begins with accepting that this is not like coming up with another New Year’s resolution. It is not a formula like a weight-loss program. It is a journey of discovery as you look for ways to use your unique gifts while helping others.
Discovering this higher purpose changes you. You will think about yourself and others differently. It is a little like reinventing yourself. You will have a new persona or self- definition that is more closely aligned with what you value and are passionate about.
And, by being more generous and other-directed, you, at long last, can take some of the focus off yourself. Certainly, self-awareness is critically important to our emotional intelligence and success. However, many achievement-driven individuals look at themselves through a fault-finding filter, concentrating on what we did wrong or could have done better.
So often, our internal talk track is self-critical, and induces stress, doubt, uncertainty and obsession. These do little to build our confidence or contribute to our successes.
Generosity distracts us from that all too critical inner voice, and helps us build a strong argument against its critique of our personalities and our efforts. In other words, it is hard to be convinced that we are a sad collection of faults when we see others benefit from our good works and actions.
Happiness at Work
One of the most admired business executives of the 21st Century, Tesco’s retired CEO Terry Leahy clearly saw that generosity was the key to success. "When I joined Tesco, somebody said to me, 'They’ll eat you alive,' because it was known as a bit of a hard-charging place,” he told the New York Times.
“That sort of brought out the street kid in me, and made me a little bit hard and combative. I had to learn later that there’s another way to get the best out of people, which is to really motivate them and make them feel good about themselves. So I changed. If I had to sum it up...[be] generous at work rather than selfish."
Leahy thinks it essential that people follow the golden rule -- treat others in the workplace the way you wish to be treated -- in order to be successful. But, he says, not everybody can adopt that mindset.
“Sometimes the brightest find it the hardest to make that transition because they’ve always been better than the people around them.” However, “if you consciously build people up so that they say, 'I matter here and people respect me and they think I can contribute and they trust me to contribute,' that really gets the best out of people."
And it will benefit you as well. According to research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, being altruistic not only improves well-being at work, but also makes people feel more committed and makes employees stay.
"Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: Helping others makes us happier,” said UW researcher Donald Moynihan."Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system."
So, obey that urge toward generosity that is hard-wired into us human beings. The investment, it seems, will pay off.
Bob Rosen is a trusted CEO advisor, organizational psychologist, and New York Times bestselling author of six books including his latest book, Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World (Jossey-Bass, 2013.) His firm, Healthy Companies International, has worked with Johnson & Johnson, Brinks, Northrop Grumman, Citigroup, PepsiCo, ING, PricewaterhouseCoopers and other major organizations. He has written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.