remember the leader that supported me through my administrative residency and interest in business development, which was a non-traditional hospital administration track at the time—she taught me the value of innovation in a traditional structure. I remember the leaders who supported me as a fledgling administrator out of school and “threw me to the wolves” in a supportive way—they taught me how to think independently and trust my instincts. I remember the leader by intimidation who was both weirdly supportive and scary—he taught me that there were different styles of leadership and how to adapt. And, I remember the leaders who were intuitive mentors adapting their style to support my growth—the generous leaders.
We all have witnessed or been recipients of generous leaders. They’re your best boss, admired mentor, favorite coach, and the heroes in your life. They often come disguised as activists or trail blazers.
Wherever you encounter them, generous leaders have common characteristics that each of us can model and learn, no matter where we are in our leadership journeys, to be the kind of leader we each aspire to be.
The Gift of Generosity
During this crazy time of a pandemic and systematic change, I am especially reminded of the importance of generosity—with ourselves, our teams, our loved ones, and in general.
The science on generosity is remarkably strong: it leads to better health, stronger relationships, less stress, and perhaps a longer life. We’ve heard from our own wellness leaders, Amy Locke and Megan Call, that an attitude of generosity towards yourself can be helpful during stressful times.
Generous leaders are curious, interested, devoted, and passionate people. They give freely of their time, knowledge and trust, and help facilitate opportunities for you.
Examples of generous leadership are pervasive throughout the health sciences. There’s Anna Gallegos’ commitment to making health care easier for refugees. Emily Drennan’s genuine interest in understanding anesthesiology tech dissatisfaction. And Michelle Hoffman’s method for asking questions to be a curious leader.
Who comes to mind when you think of a generous leader? Someone who shares information, recognizes your hard work, and empowers others to lead. They motivate you to want to give more.
Characteristics of generous leaders
Generous leadership inspires generosity on your team by encouraging each member of the team to be their personal best. Here are a few of the characteristics generous leaders have, with tips for how you can model them wherever it is you happen to lead.
Generous leaders help others connect to purpose and find meaning in their job. In your next 1:1 with a direct report, begin the meeting with this question: What inspires you outside of work? Forget going through your checklist, and instead really get to know your employee. By understanding what inspires them outside of work, you can better connect them to their own job. For example, one my employees is very committed to volunteering in the homeless community. We’ve been able to incorporate this spirit of giving at work by volunteering as a team.
Generous leaders give feedback that encourages rather than criticizes. How do you like to receive feedback? I’m guessing that you don’t like people to tell you that you were wrong and then walk away. Think about what messages encourage and motivate you to try something a different way. The next time a meeting or situation doesn’t go well, debrief and ask your team what they would have done differently and why.
Generous leaders are present, genuine and kind. Being present in a virtual world is easier said than done. The ZOOM lens seems distant, tactical, and impersonal sometimes. Sharing photos and backgrounds, goofing around with the filters, or hopping on the virtual call early to chat, all offer opportunities to be yourself, thank others, and connect more personally. If pandemic conditions permit, you could invite a colleague to a socially distanced lunch or coffee on you.
The spirit of generosity, already so present in health care, is especially present at U of U Health. A spirit of generosity makes us all better leaders. It is part of our culture and contagious. In an era when we are trying to stop the spread, generosity is at least something we can spread.
*Originally posted December 2020