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What’s The Real Secret to Success? A "Giver" Instinct

June 18, 2013

For years, aggressive, "do-what it takes" attitudes have been attributed to achieving professional success. Having at least a little bit of the "killer" instinct is what differentiates the winners in business, right? Perhaps in some cases, but according to research conducted by Wharton Business School professor, Adam Grant, the opposite is true. Success—both personal and professional—is actually the result of having a "giver" instinct.

In his New York Times best-seller 'Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success' Grant identifies three personality types: "givers," "takers" and "matchers." In a nutshell, "givers" are likely to make unconditional contributions of their time, talent, and material resources. In contrast, "takers" try to obtain maximum personal benefit from situations while contributing as little as possible. In the middle, are "matchers," who give to “givers” and withhold help from “takers.”

While very few of us are always "givers," "takers," or "matchers," many of us have a default style, which can influence our success or failure. For example, in personal relationships, the "giver" style tends to promote success while “taker” and “matcher” styles do not usually fare as well.

The same is true when it comes to working relationships and company culture. Research shows that individuals and companies with a "giving" instinct are often able to achieve greater and more meaningful success than those with “taker” or “matcher” tendencies. Why? Adam Grant believes that in part, it is because individuals and companies who are “givers” win the genuine support of others. This creates relationships and cultures based on reciprocity—and everybody wins. "Takers," on the other hand, may achieve success, but it is likely to be short-lived and not rooted in meaningful or equitable relationships.

So how do you nurture the "giver" instinct in yourself and your company? Start with small actions such as recognizing teams instead of individuals for work well done or encouraging your team members to mentor a colleague without asking for a return favor. In addition to fostering a sense of internal goodwill, encouraging a “giver” mentality with customers can also be one of the best ways to win referrals and repeat sales—not to mention a great way to build a successful business!

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