On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy, in his landmark inaugural address, challenged the American people with the famous quote,
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
It became a mantra that marked a beginning of a new era in the United States; The New Frontier as it was called-one of personal sacrifice and great social change. Kennedy had a compelling vision that would challenge people’s thinking and have a positive result. And that it did.
In 1960’s, we landed a man on the moon, businesses began a period of significant innovation and growth. Great social change took place, righting many wrongs. People in general stepped up to Kennedy’s challenge of building a better nation for everyone.
Today with our current epidemic of unhappiness in the workplace, a condition that according to 2013 Gallup poll, is costing our economy almost half a trillion dollars a year in lost productivity, there is a lot of room to examine why it has not changed. However, employee engagement is not a one-way street. If you want a good employer, be a good employee.
Perhaps we all need to ask a better question. When Kennedy spoke those powerful words it shifted the people focus 180 degrees, from what can I get? To what can I give?
The real opportunity is for every employee to shift our thinking from entitlement to contribution. When you approach life with a giving attitude we invoke the “Law of Reciprocity” which essentially teaches us that you cannot give without receiving.
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who many know from his New York Times columns, describes three orientations of which we are all capable: the givers, the takers, and the matchers. Grant discovered through extensive research that practicing generosity in organizational life — what he calls making “microloans of our knowledge, our skills, and our connections to other people” — in a way that is transformative for others, ourselves, and our places of work.
Grant’s extensive and innovative studies show that most of us can find meaning in any kind of work when we perceive ourselves to be of service. In his best-selling book Give and Take, he examines how being generous with our time and expertise can impacts our personal success. The stories of executives from all walks of life indicates that the most successful people are often givers.
So how can we as leaders be givers and make a contribution to the work place?
Focus on contribution
Peter Drucker, the father of modern management suggested that, “The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward toward goals. He asks, “What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution?”
Great leaders have a willingness to serve their organization. They are not asking what they can get back should they put their time and efforts into leading their teams. They know that every small act of generosity and contribution can make a positive impact. Remember, leadership is not a title or a position, but influence. If you lead through your own contribution and service, your team will follow.
Be a problem-solver
Every organization has problems. The reason you are there is to help your organization solve their problems. If your organization did not problems, they wouldn’t need your contribution, expertise and knowledge to help them. As a leader, you need to recognize that you are brought it to solve problems.
Problems have to be solved rather than managed. Great leaders look for solutions to tackle the day to day challenges facing their business. The most successful executives are the ones with an optimistic view of the future. They come up with new strategies and plans to execute better results for their organization.
Find ways to add value to your team
Your actions in the workplace have an impact, whether you realize it or not. The more you can add measurable, positive, powerful value through your actions, the more people will step up and take notice. The more they’ll want to keep you as a leader and acknowledge you for your genuine efforts. People don’t get paid for their “job description”. Great leaders are paid for the added value to their business. These value-add tactics aren’t defined anywhere in your orientation. It takes a few extra seconds of thought and a little creativity to go beyond just average.
With every project you take on, ask yourself: How can I add value to this? And every time you achieve one of these value-add outcomes, measure the results and write them down.
How much money did you save or earn for the organization? How much did efficiency or quality improve? What is the long-term impact of fixing or preventing that problem?
The information and the experience you accumulated, will be highly critical in future performance reviews or when writing your next resume. So my challenge to you as a leader is to be a giver instead of a taker. Find ways not to complaint about what the company can do for you, but what you can do for your company. No one ever became a leader through entitlement.