Generosity: The Giving That Makes a Leader
Despite the financial and emotional challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving and charitable donation has increased in the United States (Philanthropy Network, 2021). Research shows that giving not only affects the receiver, but also the giver. In this research article, we examine what researchers and psychologists say generosity is, who is likely to be more generous, the benefits and drawbacks of generosity, as well as a case study on generous leadership and tips for increasing generosity.
“Giving is the master key to success, in all applications of human life.” - Bryant McGill
What is generosity
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines generosity as “the quality or fact of being generous” or “liberal in giving.” The University of Notre Dame has its own research initiative that studies generosity exclusively. They define generosity as “the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly.” Their research has indicated that generosity is learned and influences attitude and behavior. They have also found that the heart of generosity is to “enhance the true wellbeing” of others. Unlike altruism, generosity can be done for personal gain or benefit. Regardless, the core principle is giving good things in good measure to benefit other people (UND, n.d.).
Personality traits associated with generosity
One of the most popular personality trait indexes—the big five personality trait index—has the following personality traits: agreeableness, openness, extraversion, conscientiousness, and neuroticism. Research has shown that individuals who are high in agreeableness are more likely to donate to charitable causes, a form of generosity (Learning To Give, n.d.). Agreeableness was also associated with blood donations and other non-financial donations (Learning To Give, n.d.).
Other research has pointed to extraversion and openness being associated with generosity in various forms as well. However, neuroticism was negatively correlated with generous behaviors (Brown & Taylor, 2015).
Conscientiousness primarily correlates with self-awareness, organization, and planning, which does not contribute to generosity since generosity is others-focused. Using the big five personality trait index, we can conclude that those who are generous are more likely to have characteristics that are high in openness, extraversion, and agreeableness.
“Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” - Jim Rohn
Drawbacks of generosity
As with many things in life, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. If a person is too generous without regard to their own wellbeing or needs, they can give too much. This can lead to hardship be it financial, physical, or relational. Consider blood bank donations. Doctors only allow individuals to donate at specific intervals. If this rule was not in place, individuals could give too much blood harming themselves and potentially others. Other drawbacks include others becoming dependent on an individual’s generosity or overwhelming others with generosity (Brustein, 2018).
Benefits of generosity
Although generosity has a few drawbacks, the benefits of being generous far outweigh the consequences of generosity. Generosity has benefits for the body, mind, and relationships of those who are giving.
Benefits for the body
Research has shown that when individuals spend money on others, a form of generosity, their blood pressure goes down and their cardiovascular health improves (Whillans et al., 2016). Other studies have pointed to the likelihood that generosity can increase longevity. Even caregivers have reported benefits from the effects of generosity such as higher levels of well-being (Brown, 2003). The benefits that generosity has on the body are evidence of the compounding effects that generosity has on the mind.
“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” - H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Benefits for the mind
Generosity has also been shown to help reduce amygdala activity in the brain (DiSalvo, 2018). Other studies have shown that generosity can help reduce the risk of “dementia,” “anxiety,” and “depression” (Stat, 2015). In an article by Terri Stat, “Stephen G. Post, founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York” was quoted stating that “Volunteering,” a form of generosity, “moves people into the present and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self… Many studies show that one of the best ways to deal with the hardships in life is not to just center on yourself but to take the opportunity to engage in simple acts of kindness."
Benefits in relationship
Generosity also benefits the relationships between individuals. Studies have shown that when individuals receive generosity, they are more likely to be generous in response (Rankin & Taborsky, 2009). Giving is a cycle. When business leaders are generous towards other executives and their employees, they are more likely to receive in return. Business leaders can use this strategy to create high-performance teams that are willing to go the extra mile for their employers. This type of generosity goes beyond compensation and into generosity with time, praise, effort, and attention (Bennett, 2021).
Generosity also makes your values and priorities visible to your employees. Being generous can signal trustworthiness to business partners and employees as well (Beasley, n.d.). This trust can help build business relationships, create new business opportunities, and lead employees with success.
“Every great leader has a generosity gene.” - Jack Welch
A case study of generosity
Dan price and Gravity Payments
6 years ago, Dan Price raised his company’s minimum wage to $70K. But how does this story start? Generosity—after a discussion with an employee who was struggling to get by on a $35,000 salary. In this discussion, Dan Price realized how his reaction to the Great Recession which included lower wages was, in his words, “hurting [his] staff” (Keegan, 2021). At this realization, he worked to increase his employees’ salaries, ultimately deciding to increase the minimum wage to $70K and forgo his $1.1 million dollar salary (Keegan, 2021).
This generosity launched a multitude of positive reactions for his company. Dan shared on his Twitter that 76% of his employees are now engaged at work (this is twice the national average), customer attrition fell to 25% below the national average, the business was expanding, and his highest paid employee now makes 4 times his lowest-paid employee. Dan’s customer base has also doubled and his employees have increased their home buying by 10 times (Mastrangelo, 2021). Dan’s radical move towards generosity led his business to become a Harvard Business School case study, increased profits, and a more engaged workforce.
“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received.” - Henry Van Dyke
How to embrace generosity
Clearly, embracing a life of generosity has many benefits. But if generosity is not a habit, how do you develop generous practices over time? How can today’s business leaders embrace generosity and how can executive coaches encourage their clients to practice generosity?
As discussed earlier, being too generous can be a bad thing. Because of this, it is important to establish mindful generosity. Identify what resources you have in excess. Is it money, time, insight, knowledge, food, or other resources? Doing this can help you identify ways in which you can give easily and in good measure.
Being grateful often reveals the many overlooked reasons to be grateful in our lives. By creating a practice of gratitude, you can begin to notice all of the things you have and be compassionate towards those without (Becker, n.d.).
Establish your “why”
Take some time to understand “why” you want to give and be generous. Are you making a charitable donation because a specific organizaiton has impacted you greatly? Are you volunteering your time and efforts because you want to make a difference in your community? What is the heart, the “why,” behind your reason for being generous? Knowing why you choose to be generous can help you find new ways to be generous and give you a more purposeful accomplishment when you are generous.
Look for the needs
Have you taken the time to consider the needs in your community? Is your local library in need of new books? Does your retirement community need volunteers to spend time with the elderly? Does your business support your employees’ local charities or organizations? Not only can fulfilling the needs of the communities surrounding a business be good for a business’s ethical responsibility and public reputation, but it is also good for employees and their family members who may use these services. However, needs are not always tangible or monetary. Sometimes what an individual needs the most is a word of encouragement. Taking the time to thank others, send encouraging notes, compliment, nominate, or simply listen to others can be an encouraging act of generosity (Stillman, 2020).
The main takeaway
Generosity is a characteristic worth developing. It benefits not only those around you and businesses, but also the generous giver as well. Generosity does not always consist of monetary donations, but at times is all about an encouraging word or note. How can you embrace generosity in your life and business today?
“Generous leaders have faith in others to succeed. In turn, they receive tenfold loyalty, commitment, and a positive outcome.” - Farshad Asl
Beasley. (n.d.). Notre Dame Deloitte Center for Ethical Leadership. Retrieved from https://ethicalleadership.nd.edu/news/leading-through-the-trust-crisis-part-1-begin-with-generosity/
Becker, J. (n.d.). 10 Little Ways to Become More Generous. Retrieved from https://www.becomingminimalist.com/10-simple-ways-to-become-a-more-generous-person/
Bennett, B. (2021, April 29). Council Post: Reciprocity And Generosity In Business. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/04/29/reciprocity-and-generosity-in-business/?sh=ee4ad2c3192c
Brown, S. L. (n.d.). Philanthropy Across the Generations.
Brown, Sarah; Taylor, Karl (2015) : Charitable Behaviour and the Big Five Personality Traits: Evidence from UK Panel Data, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 9318, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Bonn
Brustein, D. (2018, February 03). There's A Downside To Giving (And It Has Nothing To Do With You). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/darrahbrustein/2018/02/03/theres-a-downside-to-giving-and-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-you/?sh=53a24b5967c2
DiSalvo, D. (2018, September 10). Generosity Boosts Well-Being By Tuning Down The Brain's Anxiety Center, Research Suggests. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2018/09/10/generosity-isnt-just-about-doing-good-its-also-good-for-our-mental-health-suggests-new-study/?sh=7bdaa92e5286
Firestone. (2014, June 25). The Benefits of Generosity. Retrieved from https://www.psychalive.org/benefits-of-generosity/
Hyatt, M. (2016, December 27). 5 Research-Backed Benefits of Making Generosity a Habit. Retrieved from https://michaelhyatt.com/habit-of-generosity/
Keegan, P. (2015, October 21). Heres What Really Happened at That Company That Set a $70,000 Minimum Wage. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/magazine/201511/paul-keegan/does-more-pay-mean-more-growth.html
Learning to Give. (n.d.). Personality Types and Giving. Retrieved from https://www.learningtogive.org/resources/personality-types-and-giving
Mastrangelo, D. (2021, April 15). CEO who gave employees $70K minimum wage says revenue tripled 6 years later. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/news-by-subject/finance-economy/548480-ceo-who-gave-all-employees-70k-minimum-wage-says-6-years
Merriam Webster. (n.d.). Generous. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/generous
Philanthropy Network. (2021, June 15). Giving USA 2021: In a year of unprecedented events and challenges, charitable giving reached a record $471.44 billion in 2020. Retrieved from https://philanthropynetwork.org/news/giving-usa-2021-year-unprecedented-events-and-challenges-charitable-giving-reached-record-47144
Rankin, D. J., & Taborsky, M. (2009). Assortment And The Evolution Of Generalized Reciprocity. Evolution, 63(7), 1913-1922. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00656.x
Stat, T. Y. (2015, August 15). Be generous: It's a simple way to stay healthier. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/health/sc-hlth-0812-joy-of-giving-20150806-story.html
Stillman, J. (2020, February 19). 20 Free and Easy Ways to Be More Generous Today. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/20-free-easy-ways-to-be-more-generous-today.html
UND. (n.d.). Science of Generosity. Retrieved from https://generosityresearch.nd.edu/more-about-the-initiative/what-is-generosity/
Whillans, A. V., Dunn, E. W., Sandstrom, G. M., Dickerson, S. S., & Madden, K. M. (2016). Is spending money on others good for your heart? Health Psychology, 35(6), 574-583. doi:10.1037/hea0000332
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