I once had an associate, one of my all-time best, who was a rising star but lacked genuine empathy for his direct reports.
It was a career blocker for him. I noticed him going through the motions of acting as if he cared, but it rang hollow and not just to me. In one of our one-to-one monthly discussions, I asked him point-blank, "Are you doing that because you want people to do what you ask, or are you doing it because you truly care?"
I believe my candor shocked him, but I'd made my point.
After that meeting, I noticed him begin to demonstrate real compassion and generosity, and many others told me they noticed too. Had we not had that conversation, it would have been unfair to him--a disservice. He later left to become the co-founder and CEO of a well-financed, ambitious startup.
There are many different kinds of generosity and many different ways to be generous with your team. A companywide pizza party is one small, obvious gift, but I like to think deeper than that and, as always, to look further down the line.
This means something generous you do for your team or an individual associate--such as encouraging them to figure out a problem on their own or not handholding when self-accountability provides the better outcome--might take some time to emerge as the truly generous act that it was. But it will emerge, and it will create more value in your relationships with your associates over time.
As a leader, I've found that generosity is key--and it must be true generosity. So this is not an article detailing the ways to appear generous while at the same time conserving cash and delivering a fat bottom line. That is a strategy your associates will see right through.
Here are the 12 rules of leadership generosity I stand by:
1. Don't cap compensation.
If someone does an amazing job, pay them an amazing amount.
2. Know sugarcoating is lying.
Provide honest, specific feedback, even if it's hard to hear.
3. Find poor performers another role or get them out.
It's unfair to keep them in roles in which they're unsuccessful.
4. Know their goals are just as important as yours.
When you help someone with their goals first, they'll help you more than you can ever imagine.
5. Hire people who want to start their own businesses.
If their personal goal is to leave your company and start their own business, or become CEO elsewhere, help them get there. Counterintuitively, they'll stay with you longer.
6. Shine a light on the path forward.
Communicate a clear vision that people can grasp and understand. This is how they stay on track and move faster, because they are certain about where they're headed.
7. Delegate work and get out of their way.
Give them work to do. Let them learn failure and success without handholding.
8. Give them your direct phone number.
Be generous with your time. Be available. Instead of telling them, "My door is always open," tell them if they contact you, you'll come to them.
9. Make sitting in on other team meetings normal.
Let your team members sit in on other teams' meetings so they can learn more than is required to do their current job. That puts their work in better context. And, besides, they might even find a new, exciting career path.
10. Do not allow people to get stagnant.
Always give new nonrepetitive work at increasingly more complex levels.
11. Failure is not a bad word.
Allow people to experiment without fear, in a way that feels safe doing so. Failure should be celebrated. Full stop. Let your people fail and celebrate it when they do.
12. Blame yourself first.
Did you provide clear direction, clear expectations, and sufficient resources, and did the system allow them to do their job? Or, finally, was it really the person? It's generous to blame yourself first.
I know some of these principles might be tough to swallow. But they are important not only for you but also for your team. Generous leadership is different from paying a high salary, though fair compensation is table stakes.
Being generous means truly wanting what's in your team's best interests, so in return, you will get what you want and what your business needs: engaged associates who reciprocate by doing their best without ever being told to do so. Autonomous excellence.
And, remember, it's not only about giving more money. It's about giving more respect.