Adam Grant wrote the book on giving and taking. In it, he illustrated the power of generosity to create value for everyone – the person asking for help, and the person giving it.
Adam’s book showed that the most successful people in nearly every field are “givers:” their orientation is to create value for others, and they know how to strategically leverage their time and relationships to help those in their network.
The key word in that last sentence is “strategically.” You don’t need to be a radical giver to cultivate this skill.
Rather, you can easily distinguish yourself by doing two things:
- Nudge your orientation and behavior towards more willingness to help than what feels comfortable
- Be relentless about saying what you’re going to do and doing it
The first point is the easy one, since it’s mostly about attitude and orientation. Because we often feel strapped for time and attention, we hold a zero-sum attitude towards responding to requests for help. Time spent on these requests, we think, detracts from time spent on “our real work.” Our best approach, we decide, is to be frugal with the amount of time and effort we devote to others. This analysis is flawed: generously supporting others is value adding, not zero sum, as long as we learn to do it strategically.
This gets to the second point. As I’ve progressed in my career, my day-to-day orientation is increasingly outward: I spend the majority of my time either with customers, potential customers or investors, often forging new relationships (and often, in the last year, remotely). What continues to strike me is how easy is it is for people to distinguish themselves by clearly saying what they will, and won’t, do and then consistently doing what they said.
I suspect that folks are challenged by a combination of:
- Not wanting to share that they don’t have decision-making authority
- Wanting to please the person they’re talking to by saying “yes” to more than they can commit to
- Getting caught up in the moment and over-committing
The end result of these largely well-intentioned missteps is a waterfall of unfilled promises. This, in turn, leads to time wasted on both sides sifting through a lot of chaff to get to a small bit of wheat.
Conversely, the person who clearly says, “Yes, I can do these two things, but I can’t do these other three,” and who then does those two things…? She distinguishes herself by her upfront clarity and the simple act of consistent follow through.
It turns out that saying what you will and won’t do, and then doing exactly what you said you’d do, is one of the easiest ways to stand out from the crowd.