Leadership Quality #9: Generosity – Your Candle Loses Nothing After it Lights Another

Giving is the highest level of living.

When you think of generous people, who comes to mind? Do you think of millionaire philanthropists giving away millions of dollars, or of people who have hardly anything for themselves yet still make soup to feed hungry school children in their community? Either way, the deepest type of giving comes from the heart.

Nothing speaks to others more loudly or serves them better than generosity from a leader. True generosity isn’t an occasional event. It comes from the heart and permeates every aspect of a leader’s life, touching time, money, talents and possessions. Effective leaders, the kind people want to follow, don’t gather just for themselves; they do it in order to give to others.

Here’s how you can cultivate the quality of generosity in your life;

  1. Be grateful for whatever you have – it’s hard for anyone to be generous if he/she is not satisfied with what they have. Generosity rises out of contentment, and that doesn’t come with acquiring more.  Rockefeller admitted, “I have made millions, but they have bought me no happiness.” If you’re not content with little, you won’t be content with a lot. And if you’re not generous with little, you won’t suddenly change if you have a lot. I personally have a practice of walking the labyrinth in my local park every week and using that reflective space of walking the circles to acknowledge what I’m grateful for in my life.
  2. Put people first – the measure of a leader is not the number of people who serve him/her; it’s the number of people he or she serves. Generosity requires putting others first. If you can do that, giving becomes much easier.
  3. Don’t allow the desire for possessions to control you – consider that people can be divided into three groups: the haves, have-nots and have not paid for what they have. Be cautious about becoming enslaved to the desire to acquire. “Owning things is an obsession in our culture. If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure. The idea is an illusion” (Richard Foster). If you want to be in charge of your heart, don’t allow possessions to take charge of you.
  4. Regard money as a resource –  there are lots of labels around our relationship to money;  materialistic, loser, miser, spendthrift, unambitious, fool. The only way to really win with money is to hold it loosely – and be generous with it to accomplish things of value. “Money is a wonderful servant but a terrible master. If it gets on top and you get under it, you will become its slave” (E. Stanley Jones).
  5. Develop the habit of giving – the way to maintain an attitude of generosity is to make it a habit to give – your time, your attention, money and resources. The very act of letting go of money or some other treasure does something within us. It destroys the demon greed. If you are enslaved by greed, you cannot lead.


Don’t hear any of this as a judgment or assessment of what you should be doing, rather an opportunity to reflect and see what is a fit for you and your values.

Are you a generous leader? Do you continually look for ways to add value to others? Are you giving money to something greater than yourself?  And to whom are you giving your time? Are you pouring your life into others? Are you helping those who cannot help you or give you anything in return?  Writer John Bunyan affirmed, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

To improve your generosity, do the following:

  • Give something away – find out what kind of hold your possessions have on you. Take something you truly value, and think of someone you care about who could benefit from it, and give it to him/her. If you can do it anonymously, even better.
  • Put your money to work – if you know someone with the vision to do something really great – something that will positively impact the lives of others – provide resources for them to accomplish that. That’s the joy of crowd funding platforms, you don’t have to have a lot to be able to contribute. Put your money to work for something that will outlive you. 
  • Find someone to mentor – once you reach a certain level in your leadership, the most valuable thing you have to give is yourself. Find someone to pour your life into. Then give them time and resources to become a better leader.
“All that is not given is lost” – Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Today I received Mike Dooley’s Note from the Universe and it’s completely appropriate so I’m including it below.

“In a way, Mandy, life itself tracks a person's generosity, much like an airline tracks frequent flyer miles.  The more you give, the more you earn, the higher you fly, and the further you go. 

The thing about generosity, Mandy, is that you can't ever overdo it.”

It’s important to use today’s quality to find your own rhythm and as an opportunity to bring something new to, or deepen something in, your leadership. Be careful about any possible self-criticism; that’s not the game we are playing.

Onwards and upwards.

Part 9 of our Leadership Series: Leadership is an Inside Job, The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader


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