Genuine Generosity

| | Personal Leadership

Generosity is a value that seems to be as important to leadership as authenticity is these days.  Bob Burg and John David Mann’s books, The Go Giver and The Go Giver’s Sell More, are all about the power of generosity in business and in life.

Generosity is indeed a very powerful and empowering context.

Yet there are times I have felt unappreciated or even taken advantage of when my commitment was to be generous. And there have been times when I have been given something seemingly in the spirit of generosity yet been left feeling  like I was somehow being manipulated.

Just because you go above and beyond doesn’t mean the recipient will appreciate or even be able to perceive just how generous you have been.  Maybe feeling unappreciated is a sign that it was not an act of generosity at all, but rather an act with emotional strings attached.  And just because you give something away does not mean you are necessarily being generous.  Sometimes you are giving with a clear intention to get something in return.

A recent experience reminded me that whether a gesture is truly generous or not is a function of the context of the giver’s choice.

The context of the givers choice to be generous is a commitment to contribute expecting nothing in return.  Except if you are human you probably would at least like a thank you.  I don’t know about you but there have been times I have given a lot thinking I expected nothing and somehow ended up feeling like I had been a fool to do so.

What I have distinguished for myself and in working with others when this happens is my context was not generosity at all.  It was actually proving myself. Other variations on this theme are: impressing others or giving your services away because you don’t really believe in your value enough to ask to be paid. The bottom line belief is that you need others approval to know your value rather than believing in yourself.

Recognizing what is really going on inside is essential to interrupting the potential slide into resentment and/or resignation.  And it can put you on the path to truly being generous.

So when you believe you have acted generously and find you are left feeling less than satisfied with the outcome, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What did I really want or expect in return? Be honest with yourself here.  If you have any negative emotion this is an opportunity to become aware so you can grow from the experience.
  2. What do I really believe about myself (or my value) that contributed to this experience? Our actions are always consistent with what we believe to be true about ourselves.  If your experience does not match what you consciously think you believe, then there work to be done to align your aspiration with your reality.
  3. Did I do more than was really helpful or useful in the eyes of the recipient(s)? Being generous is inherently not about us.  Consider whether you were connected enough to what is important to the other person.  I once worked countless extra hours on a project thinking I was being incredibly generous with my time.  Except I later learned that what I had been doing was what I thought was needed and important, not what they cared about.  If I was paying better attention I could have actually made a difference.  Instead I invested a lot of time on something that was never used – a lose-lose.

Working harder or more hours does not make you more valuable.  Giving your time, expertise, products or services away is not going to convince anyone of your value unless you first truly believe in the value of what you have to offer.  It is only then that you will be able to choose to give with no strings attached.    This is true whether you work for yourself, run a company or work for someone else.

So the next time you act generously and are left feeling undervalued or unappreciated use it as a trigger to look more closely at your relationship with yourself and your value.

You cannot give away that which you do not own.  Do you believe in your value enough to be genuinely generous?


Enter A Comment

Frank Sonnenberg   |   12 August 2011   |   Reply

Well said Susan! I believe that “real” generosity is giving something to someone without expecting anything in return. In this case the only satisfaction is knowing the good deed and feeling good about yourself. That being said, it’s wonderful when people acknowledge your deed, but unfortunately some people are rude. I love your point, “Did I do more than was really helpful or useful in the eyes of the recipient(s)?” That’s a very important, yet difficult, lesson to learn. Thanks again for sharing.

Have a wonderful day,


Susan Mazza   |   12 August 2011   |   Reply

Thank you Frank. Yes that is a most difficult lesson to learn., but there is a lot of freedom once you have learned it fortunately!

Jay Forte   |   12 August 2011   |   Reply

Susan, I think generosity comes from authenticity. The more we are authentic – we know ourselves and how we fit in our world – the more we have the ability to freely give of our ourselves in meaningful ways. This takes away the requirement that our giving be something “specific” (which can sometimes make it about ego); rather it can be an honest and heartfelt response of our personal time, talent or treasures. True generosity is, as you say, giving without expectation. Giving of your true self is the most generous thing any of us can do.

Susan Mazza   |   12 August 2011   |   Reply

An excellent point Jay. I put generosity and authenticity side by side here. When the two go hand in hand it is incredibly powerful. You said it well: “the more authentic we are the more we have the ability to freely give of our ourselves in meaningful ways.”

Shawn Murphy   |   16 August 2011   |   Reply

I want to key in on a point you mention in the third item: generosity isn’t about us. Though none of us are perfect in our efforts to be selfless in our intentions, it seems making something about us is the rock that starts the fall.

As always you position your wisdom to really get us to think. Nicely done!


Susan Mazza   |   16 August 2011   |   Reply

Great point and excellent metaphor Shawn – “the rock that starts the fall”. And thank you for your kind words. Always love when you share your insights and wisdom here.

Stan Faryna   |   30 August 2011   |   Reply

“Working harder or more hours does not make you more valuable. ”

I have made this mistake a thousand times. And I have seen the same mistake made by others.

Does what you do… contribute to the shared anticipations of the outcome? Does what you do extra… speak to the anticipations of others? In other words, is your “contribution” viewed by others as a gift – surprising, delightful, and shiny?

I mention some of these questions in my recent blog post about the economics of friendship. You might find it interesting. http://wp.me/pbg0R-oU

Susan Mazza   |   11 September 2011   |   Reply

Me too Stan!

Great questions. And a question for you…are you by any chance a student/practitioner of Appreciative Inquiry?

Stan Faryna   |   11 September 2011   |  

Big hug to you Susan!

I believe it is important and urgent to ask ourselves and others those tough and intimate questions – questions that strengthen our capacity to apprehend, anticipate, and unlock the promise and mysteries of what is good, true, and beautiful. In us. In others. In the world.

I don’t know if that makes me an AIer. I don’t have a membership card to the club. [grin] But I would like an introduction – if you would like to facilitate it.

Recently on my blog: Are you comfortable faking it? And other social media DOHs. http://wp.me/pbg0R-pl