Does success depend on being a giver or a taker?

Research shows that businesses can benefit from a more giving style of management.

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, says he is stepping down as executive chairman to focus on philanthropy and teaching. He follows in the footsteps of Bill Gates, who has given most of his wealth to charity.

Then there is the story of Dashrath Manjhi who spent 22 years carving a path through the Gehlour Hills in India. This was to give his village easier access to medical attention after his wife died in an accident as there has been no hospitals within reach. The path reduced the distance between two sectors of the district from 80km to 3km. Although initially mocked for his efforts, Manji’s work has made life much easier for people in his village.

These stories, and others like them, can be inspiring for business. In his book Give and Take, American psychologist and author Professor Adam Grant defines three types of people in any organisation.

  1. Takers: they are selfish and put their interests before others, who do not believe in team spirit. They are are insecure and always eager to take undue credit for themselves.
  2. Givers: they believe in the joy of giving, put others’ interests first, with principles and value systems opposite to that of a taker.
  3. Matchers: they sit somewhere between takers and givers and believe in quid pro quo.

Perhaps surprisingly, of these personality types, Grant says a large proportion of both the least and most successful people come from the giver category. While takers may sometimes appear to win in the short term, in the long run they tend to fall fast and are often disliked. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down.

Most people fall into the third category: matchers. They may be more popular than takers, but Grant say they will often only rise to the middle level of an organisation because they subconsciously choose the middle path.

Givers, on the other hand, tend to go to the top. However, they can sometimes tire of the organisation and slide down, or become aimless without clear goals.

The dynamics of giving

Giving includes much more than charity. It can encompass sharing knowledge and advice, helping friends or doing something extra with no expectations other than self-satisfaction or for love and compassion. American investor, businessman and philanthropist Charlie Munger says the “best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more”.

In my experience, being a giver engenders goodwill and is a sure way to succeed in any organisation, with people often supporting and rooting for them. An inner giving motive can take you a long way when dealing with or being dependent on other people.

Grant says spending five minutes each day helping others can be very effective and fulfilling. He also suggests that it is generally better to be around a disagreeable giver than an agreeable taker. Disagreeable givers can be the best fit for an organisation. They may be tough on the surface but have the best interests of others at heart.

This outlook suggests that ‘success’ has a broader meaning. It is not about fame or fortune, but about your contribution and what you want to get out of life. As Grant says: “When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses.”

Givers succeed in a way that can create a ripple effect, enhancing the success of the people around them. This is often seen in the way that they create value through their success, instead of just claiming it.

For more information, contact:
Gagan Chaturvedi
Chaturvedi and Shah,
T: +91 22 4009 0600