We’re nearing Christmas, and everywhere you look, there are advertisements encouraging you to think about the people on your gift list. Whether it’s your spouse, your children, a parent or a co-worker, there’s a lot of emphasis placed on giving just the right gift.
As a result, people are cheerfully—and busily—shopping to put a smile on someone else’s face.
‘Tis the season for generosity, and it’s that spirit of giving that makes Christmas so beautiful. While many people love the lights and sounds of the season, what makes the holiday magical is the change of heart that our culture undergoes.
That change is obvious because, for much of the year, it’s not unusual for people to worry about themselves. Our culture is heavily invested in getting people to think about what’s missing or wrong with their own lives.
Are you driving the right car? Do you have the right phone? Is your deodorant strong enough?
Our focus is constantly directed to our own interests. In fact, it’s so commonplace that we bring that sensibility into all areas of our lives. I see this a lot with leadership—even the best leaders get tunnel vision on their particular agenda or idea. Overcoming that mindset requires a shift in our thinking.
In my upcoming book, Leadershift: 11 Essential Changes Every Leader Must Embrace, I talk about the Focus Shift, which is when a leader stops thinking “me-first” and begins thinking “we-first.” The change happens when a leader realizes that the potential of a group is greater than anything a leader can do alone.
I first realized this when I was just a young leader. I was at a conference where Zig Ziglar spoke, and I heard him say, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
It was a powerful insight. As a young leader, I was tempted to worry about what I wasn’t getting. To put it in the farming terms I grew up around, I was concerned about my harvest—what was going to come to me.
But as any farmer worth his salt would have told me, the size of your harvest depends on how much seed you sow. The more seeds you plant, the more likely you are to see a great return.
And that meant my perspective needed to shift.
But what does that look like? How does a leader shift from a receiving mindset to a giving mindset?
Here’s what I learned to do:
Focus on adding value to people daily. Instead of looking for ways to have others serve my agenda, I turned my attention to serving the agenda of others.
Add as much value as often as possible. I chose to help people whenever I ran across an opportunity. Planting one seed in one spot in one field doesn’t yield a great harvest, and adding value to one person once a day won’t do much for you as a leader.
Never wait to add value. I learned to think of it this way, “Be the first to help.” As a leader, there are so many opportunities to add value to others that it’s tempting to say, “I’ll get around to it.” The problem is you don’t get around to it—you lose the opportunity once you let it pass.
Give without keeping score so motives stay pure. Of all the lessons I learned, this one was the most challenging. Human nature keeps score because it’s a great way to stay motivated. It’s a lousy way to learn to be giving. Leaders must let go of the impulse to get something in return for giving.
Welcome any return as an unexpected blessing. For me, this went hand-in-hand with letting go of scorekeeping. When I was able to give to others with a pure heart, I no longer wondered what would come back my way—which meant anything that did come was a pleasant surprise that sparked gratitude within me. It also fueled my desire for greater generosity.
Being a leader who focuses on adding value to others—to giving—isn’t just a holiday thought. What makes Christmas so magical is the fact that, for just a few weeks, we live with hearts that are open to others—we make the shift from receiving to giving.
And we can live that way every day if we make a commitment to adding value to the people around us.