Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Excellence is Giving by Michelle Kunz

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 - 1882)

I have come to believe that giving and receiving are really the same.
Giving and receiving - not giving and taking.
-- Joyce Grenfell

Perfection is taking.
Excellence is giving.

In the second quote, Joyce Grenfell makes an important distinction between receiving and taking. This distinction also gets to the heart of the important difference between perfection and excellence for the purpose of our discussion.

Tracing our steps, perfectionism begins when we become vested in our being right. We become entrenched in the status quo, defending it hotly and building great arguments against change. We gradually come to fear all that change represents as we continue to find every excuse why our way is the best way. This fear leads to anger and frustration when others cannot or will not conform to our ideas about the way things ought to be. As we tighten our grip on our perceived sense of order, we drive others to anger and frustration as they feel our rigidity cutting off their creativity and individuality. Finally, we apply our version of right and wrong to challenges we face and mire ourselves in the tyranny of judgment.

Given the fear-oriented, rigid position of the perfectionist's view of the world, it is understandable that such a person might be tempted to adopt a "What's in it for me?" attitude toward challenge, including change, risk and sacrifice. Fear encourages us to see the possibility of loss and/or failure, and as a result, we grasp at everything we have now and what little we see might be available to us in the near future. We want to get and keep a tight hold, in case it all disappears, because this is what we fear most.

The dynamic created by a grasping orientation is essentially one of taking. We reach out and bring to us anything within our reach, whether it is right for us or not. We do this because we are collecting all we can against the possibility of ultimate loss and/or failure. This stockpiling of successes and material goods is an empty endeavor in the end because one can never fill the hole that fear creates deep within.

How are giving and receiving the same?

When we shift our orientation to one of excellence, which is grounded in a willingness to be wrong, gives us confidence to take risks, empowers us and others to be spontaneous, and looks for ways in which to accept what is in the current moment context, we free ourselves to see possibilities instead of failure. This freedom results in an openness to generosity -- in both directions. Rather than look for "What's in it for me?" we begin to shift to "What's in it for us?" or even the more empowering "What's in it for you?"

This openness allows us to not only give freely, but also to receive without suspicion or guilt. When we are stuck in a "What's in it for me?" mentality, it is easy to believe that everyone else is stuck there with us. When we move away to a more open, generous belief system, it doesn't matter. We take people as they are and appreciate whatever we find because we are looking for possibilities.

Why is giving important in building powerful leadership?

When we begin to give freely and actively seek the advantage for the other person, a marvelous thing happens. Powerful leadership begins to take root. To quote BNI's motto: "Givers Get." What do they get? It's hard to predict exactly, and true givers don't try to manipulate the outcome. Some of what might come back includes:

  • Trust -- people trust those who have their interests truly at the center of all they do
  • Admiration -- people admire those who commit their energies to advancing the common good
  • Respect -- people respect those who dedicate their time to helping others win
  • Wisdom -- when we listen deeply to what others need we learn more about ourselves and the world around us
  • Humility -- giving to others shines a mirror back on all that we have and helps us feel grateful
  • Authenticity -- giving deeply of ourselves removes the filters we keep in place when we withhold, requiring our true selves to come into focus
  • Integrity -- aligning our values with principles which do not change greatly simplifies the challenge of walking our talk

These are some of the qualities of a powerful leader. Truly great leaders aren't always made. Sometimes they simply are. Allowing that to take place can be a much bigger challenge than acquiring an impressive resume or the accoutrements of success. Great leaders know how to let go and allow their best selves to brilliantly shine.

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