To pay homage to the season of giving, I thought it appropriate to share some thoughts about the role of generosity in leadership and in our lives that I first shared in 2017. 

One of the most powerful forms of influence is generosity. From a leadership perspective, while it is often overlooked, the influence of generosity is always present, even when we’re not paying attention to or looking for it.

How can we best define what generosity is?

Currently, our most popular definitions focus on three types of “giving”resources, money and time. Interestingly, many studies show that, of the three, we are more likely to give money and resources than we are willing to give of our time. Even more interesting is the fact that the more current and frequently found definitions of generosity fail to explore it as a form of influence. They are aspects of influence that go well beyond the measurable cost versus benefit often attributed to generosity and the giving of money, resources and time.

This leads us back to exploring the longer-standing definitions of generosity. Here are three that appear with consistency:

1) The habit of giving freely without anything in return.

2) Freedom from meanness or smallness of character.

3) Acts of giving characterized by noble spirit.

All of these definitions transcend much of our current thinking about generosity and provide the framework for a deeper understanding of how we influence each other. They also provide insight into how we convey generosity on a daily and ongoing basis and through which we can achieve greater levels of mutual respect, mutual benefit, and trust.

As evidence of this influence, there’s extensive school of study on the connection of generosity to how our brains work, including our resulting physical and emotional responses. This includes studies exploring the hormone oxytocin (commonly referred to as the love hormone) and its link to parental bonding and the positive feelings of trust that result in caring behaviors, including generosity and the human desire to connect through giving. This further supports what we know about human nature and our desire for generosity, which is at the core of so much of our spiritual and religious belief systems. As Mother Teresa expressed, “At the heart of God is generosity.”

To help you put this all into practice, here are seven powerful acts of generosity that you can apply immediately, in all of your relationships to achieve greater levels of mutual respect, mutual benefit, and trust. 

Seven Acts of Generosity

APPRECIATION. Showing appreciation to people begins with having a positive attitude toward others and recognizing them for their value, for who they are, and what they contribute to the world. To show appreciation is to praise individuals for their strengths, beliefs, and competencies, and to recognize their contribution. While we spend a great deal of time looking for grounds to criticize one another, when people feel appreciated, they feel safe. When they feel safe, they feel confident. When people feel confident, they perform at higher levels. And, they trust you more.

LISTENING. One of the most generous gifts we give to one another is the act of listening. To listen genuinely with the intention to understand and know another person is how we establish true mutual respect. There is a generosity in relationships wherein people are committed to consciously hearing one another and listening for understanding and meaning. It often takes time and patience to really listen to one another. In today’s fast-paced world of multiple priorities and almost continuous engagement in the multiple tasks we’re confronted with, the act of generous listening has limitless value and influence.

GRATITUDE. The act of gratitude begins with simply saying “thank you.” Unpretentious and powerful, in any language, these simple words of gratitude are available to us in virtually any situation we may find ourselves. Because of this, it is likely the most often overlooked act of being generous. Saying “thanks” not only shows people that you’re paying attention to their actions, it signifies that you are grateful and appreciative of what they are giving and of their contribution. When we show gratitude, we are acknowledging a benefit that we are receiving from one another.

KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge is power and power is influence. In a world in which the level of our knowledge, skill, and competency is often the means by which we are measured, when we give of our abilities and generously share our know-how and competencies, we are providing one another with an increased ability to achieve and to succeed. Take a moment and ask yourself who outside your parents had the greatest influence on your life. It is very likely to be someone who taught you something—a teacher, boss, coach, or spiritual guide who was sharing their knowledge with you. Too often leaders miss the opportunity to coach and teach. The sharing of knowledge is one of the greatest gifts we can give to those we lead.

COMPASSION. The generosity of compassion is intimately tied to the giving of empathy and sympathy. When we act compassionately toward another person, we demonstrate consideration and kindness. Compassion is often described as being empathetic to another people’s point of view and striving to gain an understanding of their emotions and, ultimately, their fears. It is when we are able to understand another person’s fear, through the awareness of our own emotion, that we can be fully present to the relationship. Compassion speaks to the heart and soul, and conveys an ability to be a part of a shared experience. This is the origin of the notion of kind-heartedness. After all, we are all human beings and share the same basic desires, needs, and fears.

ACCEPTANCE.  Think for a moment how you treat someone that you are tolerating versus how you treat someone you willingly accept for who he or she is. There is a requirement that goes with the second of these two options, which is the necessity of seeing others through open-mindedness. When we are open-minded, we move beyond tolerating others in our relationships, to genuinely accepting others for who they are, with all their goodness, as well as their shortcomings. Acceptance of one another conveys a generosity of human spirit. It acknowledges our differences as a natural outgrowth of our likenesses and what we all have in common. It is the generosity of accepting the conditions that accompany any relationship. After all, it’s a long and arduous road trying to get people to change who they are, especially when it’s for your own benefit.

INTIMACY. The ultimate act of generosity is the giving of one’s self to the world and engaging others in intimate relationships. This is the key that unlocks the power and influence of authenticity. As much as acceptance invites others to be themselves and to be open with you, intimacy is your invitation to yourself to be open and to be authentic with others. As much as intimacy defines our closeness to others, it also speaks to the closeness and familiarity we have with ourselves. When the internal and external align, that alignment appears in the confidence to be open about what we think, see, and ultimately, what we feel.

Edgar Papke is an author, leadership coach, award-winning speaker. He is executive in residence of the Anderson College of Business and Computing and co-founder of InnoAlign, an international consultancy dedicated to helping leaders design and build cultures of innovation. He is the author of the books, True Alignment, The Elephant in the Boardroom, and co-author of Innovation by Design.