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Paths of Generosity and Giving Away the Business

Jun 21, 2024

Generosity begins in our hearts when we genuinely believe we don’t deserve what we have. I’ll never forget my first session with a client many years ago. My consulting partner invited me, ensured I was paid like a seasoned veteran, and even asked the CEO to write a reference for me. My delivery was sloppy at best, and I certainly didn’t deserve what I was paid. That generosity set something in motion in me that lasts today. I learned that we can’t give what we have not received. And it’s not a gift if it costs nothing. Because of the great, humble leaders in my life, I’ve caught the “abundance mentality” bug, which happens when we are “genuinely happy for others when they achieve success.” That’s what my partner did for me that day. He did something that would propel my success at the cost and risk of his own.

I’ve caught another bug as well. I constantly see others in need around me. I see their need for our time, money, talents, etc. When the path of generosity moves in directions I don’t prefer, I can get distracted, discouraged, or even irritated. I’m an idealist, so it’s easy for me to project my values on others. But that’s not always fair or right. It’s not healthy to expect others to see things the same way I do. I wrote this as much for my own clarity as for others. Here are the paths I see and some thoughts about each.

Path A: “I guess it’s all about me, right?”

My least favorite path is when clients receive generosity and focus on themselves. We sometimes send a message that life is all about them, so they internalize it and go with it. This can create imbalanced relationships with people who do not receive generosity with gratitude. The minute entitlement creeps in, we lose the power of generosity. Sometimes, we enable this behavior by giving with unwritten expectations. This is not balanced or helpful for either party.

Caring about oneself is not inherently wrong and can reflect good boundaries. Some people are self-sufficient and self-reliant, not looking for generosity from others. In these situations, it’s probably best to invest in people who might be better stewards of generosity.

Path B: Pay-it-back

A better option is when people receive generosity and immediately think of ways to show their gratitude by returning the favor. I remember inviting a consulting partner to several engagements early in his career, and he thoughtfully invited me to several similar opportunities. It didn’t always work out, but I appreciated his willingness to reciprocate. However, the heart of generosity is not simply tit-for-tat. There are bigger things at play captured in the final two paths.

Path C: Pay-it-Forward

A great option is illustrated by “pay-it-forward.” It’s powerful when we give to those who have not given to us without expecting anything in return. We see how blessed we are and let it overflow to others, hoping that generosity will spread. This helps protect me from wanting to be paid back, and seeing the joy in multiple links in the chain is gratifying. But there is an even better option.

Path D: Higher Ground

Humility involves a “no” view of self. Our giving can be so focused on individuals that we miss the bigger picture. There are larger impacts at play. In my work, a movement for organizational health is taking shape. Giving to this effort could benefit millions of future generations. It’s good to focus on clients or partners, but even better to direct people towards movements bigger than us all. This way, we are part of something that will bless millions, whether we know the recipients or not.

So, where does giving away the business fit in? To truly give away the business, we, as consultants, must embody true generosity. Unlike Path B, we shouldn’t expect anything in return. Giving away the business is a genuinely others-focused act, requiring us to focus on those around us, like in Path C, or on causes larger than ourselves, as in Path D. It’s also important to recognize the generosity we receive. At some point, we all benefit from the generosity of others. However, if we follow Path A, we risk missing the essence of their generosity. Giving away the business is about passing on the generosity we’ve received to build relationships and hopefully inspire more generosity.

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