In Search of Generous Leaders

More than ever, businesses, institutions, organizations, schools and families need generous leaders.

“What is leadership?” There was silence in the room as the twenty or so directors and vice presidents considered our new boss Brian’s question. 

“Author John Maxwell has the best answer I every heard,” said Pam. She couldn’t help noticing the stack of John Maxwell books, Developing the Leader Within You, Brian had placed on the table. “Maxwell says ‘leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less.’” Brian nodded in agreement and said, “Sounds like you read the book, Pam.  And you are so right!”

Leadership is influence. It is about influencing others. It has nothing to do with title or role or business card, position or age, or time in service. Thus, anyone who influences is a leader. 

Authentic Leaders are Generous People

John Maxwell’s classic definition is spot on.  Did you notice the quality most associated with leadership?  Investing in others… giving them time.  In other words, generosity.

Authentic leaders aren’t arrogant or puffed up. They aren’t self-absorbed and self-focused. They aren’t about wealth, status, power or renown.  Authentic leaders – the real deal – are givers you want to follow. 

Five Exemplary Things Generous Leaders Give

What are the things that characterize Generous Leaders?  You’ll find Generous Leaders make massive investments in people, giving them:

  • Words of Kindness. Generous Leaders take time to notice people and treat them with kindness. They view everyone as having value and worthy of courtesy and respect. They don’t judge on appearances and have compassion on those in difficult circumstances.  Their words never tear down; they build up.
  • Generous Leaders make time for other people.  Not marginal time or begrudging time.  They invest prime time in the lives of others.  With full attention.  When you are with a Generous Leader you are made to feel as if you are the only other person in their world.
  • Words of Optimism. Where others may see scarce resources and limitation, Generous Leaders see opportunity for greater things, for higher purpose.  Generous Leaders cast a vision of what could be, rather than what is or isn’t.  They encourage us and make us want to do our best. You cannot be in the presence of a Generous Leader without feeling more positive about things than you did prior to being with them. 
  • Acts of Service. Generous Leaders notice when others have a need, and they seek to fill it if they can. You’ll find them serving food in the neighborhood soup kitchen and serving at their local charity. Because they are others-minded, they’ll see a need and fill it, even anticipate it.  They show up every day, looking to make a difference in the lives of others.
  • Words of Appreciation. Generous Leaders are quick to let others know how much they appreciate them.  They are specific in what they thank others for quickly after they observe something.  It’s always personalized to make the recipient feel special, and above all, it’s completely sincere, spoken from the heart. 

Consequences of Not Being Generous: Two Real Life Examples

Example 1 – Tightfistedness.  The opposite of being generous is being tightfisted. Tightfisted people feel like they must hold on to everything they grasp.  Just as generosity has its rewards, being grasping and stingy has their consequences.

Besides man, among the creatures of the animal kingdom, monkeys are considered to be of the highest order of intelligence.  They are social animals with their own language, they learn, and are clever in solving puzzles.  Yet they are tightfisted.  Which is just how they are captured. A monkey trap is a hollow ball on a chain, inside which the monkey’s favorite food is placed.  Note the small openings in the monkey traps in the diagram.  They are large enough to let the monkey put its hand inside.  The hole is not large enough for the monkey to withdraw its hand while grasping the food.  Because the monkey is tightfisted it does not want to let go of the food to withdraw its hand.  When the monkey trappers come for the monkey, it shrieks and jumps around, but will not let go of the food in its grasp… and so the monkey is captured.


Question: what things are you holding on to that you should let go of for your own good? 

Example 2: Takers, Not Givers (All Incoming, No Outgoing).  What happens to a vibrant river system when it has all inlets and no outlets?  The Jordan River in Israel is best known for the two bodies of water it connects.  You can see this in the Google Earth visual to the left. 

Lake Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee) is Israel’s largest freshwater lake and is fed from the rain and snowfall to its north.  It is teeming with life, home to an impressive array of freshwater fish and other wildlife.  Its surrounding area is quite fertile, a major producer of fruits and vegetables.

Water from Lake Tiberias flows south and makes the 87-mile journey to Israel’s other famous body of water, the Dead Sea.  It is the lowest point on land on the Earth, making it a natural collection point for water.  It also has no outlets, so its salt content is nine times that of the ocean.  It’s called the Dead Sea… only bacteria can live in such conditions.  It is dead because it has no outflow of water, taking in fresh water and holding it while the sun evaporates the water and leaves salt and other solids behind.

Question: in what areas do you need to give, in order to maintain a life-giving “freshwater” balance?

Bottom Line:

Generosity is a choice, just like the monkey has, to let go and to live, or to hold on and be captured. You and I have the same choice.  Being generous is not a matter of wealth… generous leaders give away the things of life that matter most to other people.  The world needs generous leaders.  The more generosity, the better place it will be.

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