The first impulse: what a chance for fellowship this is! I’m meeting with my spiritual adviser, and if I can listen openly to my colleagues while sharing honestly my successes and struggles, I may finally find that support I need.
The second impulse: what a chance to get ahead this is! I’m meeting with my boss, and if I can throw my colleagues under the bus (framed as offering them prayer for their struggles) while promoting my skills and accomplishments, I may finally get that promotion I deserve.
We know we’re called to follow that first impulse, but we also know that in this world, nice guys finish last. But do they really? Wharton Professor Adam Grant begs to differ. In a recent interview about his book Give and Take, Grant makes his case with the research he’s collected.
In one of my own studies, hundreds of salespeople completed a questionnaire on their commitment to helping coworkers and customers, and I tracked their sales revenue over the course of a year. I found that the most productive salespeople were the “givers”—those who reported the strongest concern for benefiting others from the very beginning of their jobs. They earned the trust of their customers and the support of their coworkers. Similar patterns emerged in a number of other fields, and before long, I had many data points showing that the most successful people in a wide range of jobs are those who focus on contributing to others. The givers often outperform the matchers—those who seek an equal balance of giving and getting—as well as the takers, who aim to get more than they give.
Does this mean that giving guarantees success? Not exactly, says Grant. While the most successful tend to give most generously, the least successful also give generously. What makes the difference?
Ultimately, the biggest difference between the givers who rise to the top and those who sink to the bottom is the boundaries that they set. Givers who burn out consistently put the interests of others ahead of their own, sacrificing their energy and time and undermining their ability to give in the long run. Those who maintain success are careful to balance concern for others with their own interests. Instead of helping all of the people all of the time, they help many of the people much of the time. They’re careful to give in ways that are high benefit to others but not exceedingly costly to themselves.
Of course, for pastors, it’s no surprise that it’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35), and there’s good precedent for giving so un-strategically that it’s scandalous (think of the “wasteful” beauty of the woman in Bethany lavishing expensive perfume on Jesus). But because we’re all tempted to think that in this world success only comes from self-seeking and miserly ambition, it’s nice to know that “this world’s” research supports giving–generously and strategically!