Let’s Lose the Ego in Leadership | The Difference Between Givers and Takers

My best friend was once a child who loved one thing.

Its name: “Blankie.”

My Blankie went everywhere with me from meal time to play time. I would use it as a soft place to sit while at the beach and as a pillow to rest my head on during nap time. And no, you could not wash it because washing it would mean it would have to leave me.

It got so bad that when there was a giant hole ripped in the middle of it, I would put it over my head and use it as my personal cape. It was my number one antidote; the prescription to end all fear.

My wonder blankie.

Sofia Moore Illustration

My father decided to throw my blanket away whenever he realized it was no longer socially acceptable for his child to wear her dirty blanket around her neck to class.

The day I lost my Blankie, I had come home from school so worried because I had forgotten it that day and lo and behold my blankie was gone. Let’s just say I’m still harboring ill-feelings towards my father’s betrayal. And I was devastated.

It is fun to recall the anecdotes of children’s stories and imagine how we’ve replaced the sacred blankies in our lives with other things that make us feel safe or wonderous.

However, as we get older these coping mechanisms seem to take a darker path.

When we think about the concept of a ‘security blanket,’ we understand its developmental purpose for our survival. It is a primary aspect of human behavior to become attached and dependent on things that provide a sense safety and love. However, when we grow up unaware of how to identify and express healthy emotions our attachments can be misplaced.

These factors are not only explained my trauma which produces ruptures in individuals personalities and causes neurological damage and mental illness. But it also describes the ways in which our ego states express faulty cognitions. Our attachments to people and things are expressions of our need for security and love within ourselves. Typically, unhealthy attachments represent wounded aspects of our personality.

It saddens me that we live in a world that rewards behavior that is sadistic, manipulative and undercutting.

These behaviors are manifested through our egos and seen in our common day workplaces.

Let’s Lose the Ego in Leadership

“The principle of give and take; that is diplomacy — give one and take ten,”Mark Twain famously smirked.

Sometimes, I feel like we’re living in a world that has developed some weird cultural manifesto that reads like this, “the sicker you are, the farther you’ll reach.” And could I be completely wrong? But What happened to us when we developed into adults? Does the trauma of losing our blankies turn us into raging power-hungry psychopaths?

In a podcast discussing the dynamics of power, two psychologists discussed studies on Hedgefund Manager behavior. They sorted and categorized individuals who displayed leadership qualities that helped them excel in their careers. According to Organizational Psychologist, Adam Grant, the youngest-tenured and highest-rated Wharton professor, and author of the novel Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (public library) there are two common factors that play into individuals with personalities that are commonly successful.

While we see a lot of people getting ahead for the sake of money, power and prestige. Adam developed research around the common traits that are most associated with individuals long-term success potential.

He brings to light two common archetypes or tropes to distinguish the successful individual: the giver and the taker.

The givers are leaders who have found vision, purpose, motivation and drive and by doing so believe in giving back for the greater good of humanity. While the takers are typically individuals who have gotten by through lying, deception and manipulation. You know Mark that guy who makes snide comments about your wardrobe every Thursday morning? Or Sue the one who slightly undercuts you in the deliberation meeting? These thoughts aren’t just in your head. These are the takers.

The premise of Adams theories on the conceptualization of givers and takers are as follows:

Takers have a distinctive signature: they like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs. Takers believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Garden-variety takers aren’t cruel or cutthroat; they’re just cautious and self-protective. “If I don’t look out for myself first,” takers think, “no one will.”

And in today’s society, how you could you not believe some of these thought processes?

In contrast, givers exhibit these behaviors:

In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them. These preferences aren’t about money: givers and takers aren’t distinguished by how much they donate to charity or the compensation that they command from their employers. Rather, givers and takers differ in their attitudes and actions toward other people. If you’re a taker, you help others strategically, when the benefits to you outweigh the personal costs. If you’re a giver, you might use a different cost-benefit analysis: you help whenever the benefits to others exceed the personal costs. Alternatively, you might not think about the personal costs at all, helping others without expecting anything in return. If you’re a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.

However, what Adam found in the book Power Moveswas that givers perform better over time. This is because giving helps the team while taking helps the individual. When leaders show characteristics of ‘giving’ they’re actually contributing to increased revenue throughout their organization. And these aren’t explicitly new concepts, however, I think when we look at organizational behavior we don’t always see givers as the common thread. In fact, givers are a little bit like unicorns. Mysterious, sunny, happy, kind of annoying — but oddly humble?

Humility is the Backbone of Leadership

Humility is great leadership. The foundation behind giving is not as complicated as Kantian metaphysics. In fact, humility is not thinking less of yourself but just thinking of yourself a little less. Psychological safety in the workplace is created when leaders are safe and when we’re able to be ourselves with them. In organizations with large hierarchical chains of command, it can be hard to inspire and motivate a team through good leadership. And workers psychological and emotional safety isn’t always taken into account when making large business decisions.

Could this be why there are so many takers in positions of high-power?

A leader inspires, motivates and encourages their team to be the best that they can be. If you’re a leader, you probably believe everyone else around you has just as much insight and capability of achieving their goals as you. You get a healthy surge of positive energy by knowing you’re surrounded by a team that is working towards one common goal. When you see someone failing, you take the time to develop the skills in them they need to be successful. Because you understand a healthy team is better as a unit. You knock toxic behavior like rumor spreading, bullying and one-sided conversations. And maybe, I am a little too much of an altruist but I don’t believe capitalism is the root of corruption. And I don’t really believe communism is the problem either. I think it is human behavior. We’re inherently programmed to position ourselves in unhealthy dynamics that exploit power relations. However, this is why the zeitgeist of revolutionary leadership involves a personal awakening to the humility within each and everyone one of us.

Leadership is ego death.

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