I know a consultant who made a huge mistake by being normal. He was working with a rapidly growing client.  This organization was still in the early stages of penetrating its target market and was eager to go from an unknown to a household name as quickly as possible.

The consultant was well networked in the client’s market and happened to know senior people at a prominent trade group.  Knowing that getting exposure to the industry through this trade group could be a huge boon to the client, the consultant offered to make an introduction.

Everything looked rosy… until the consultant threw in one little detail.  In return for making the introduction, he wanted to receive some sort of compensation. “I’m not sure what compensation is right, but I think I should get something,” he said. Suddenly, the not-so-pleasant aroma of stinginess filled the room.

This guy is normal! Scary...

Pure generosity is rare – and I wish I gave it more often myself.  It’s easy to spend your life with a mindset of “I have to take care of myself.” This is, after all, the unwritten rule of our world.

What if we made 2013 the year of rebelling against lousy unwritten rules? Try these on for size:

  • It’s a rule to give favors only to those who can quickly repay them. Break it. Give favors to people who cannot repay or who may not repay.
  • It’s a rule to help someone with their project once they show you how it will support your agenda. Bust it. Get behind another person’s project just because it’s good.
  • It’s a rule that you have to look out for yourself because no one else will. I know it because Mr. Angell, my high school physics teacher, told me so. Flaunt that rule. Relish looking out for others and see what happens.
  • It’s a rule to return calls to the rich, powerful, and famous – and to ignore (or at best delay) doing so for the poor, average, and anonymous. Thumb your nose at that rule. Extend kindness to people without regard for their status.
  • It’s a rule to avoid the colleague or client who just lost their job, that person who “has decided to pursue other opportunities outside the company,” as the bland euphemism goes.  It’s a rule to treat them like they have a deadly, communicable disease. Stomp on that rule. Be human. Call them back. Offer them a side order of encouragement to go along with the healthy serving of reality they were dished up.

Here are three joys Grinchy people and stingy companies miss out on every day by being self-serving:

  • The Freebies – It would have cost that consultant I mentioned earlier virtually nothing to connect the industry association with his client.  One phone call may have opened up opportunities for both parties – opportunities that he may have gained great credit for down the road. Asking for something in return for a Freebie doesn’t just cheapen the gift, it cheapens the giver.
  • The Afterglow – The old proverb says, “It’s better to give than to receive.” There is growing evidence that this is empirically true.  Don’t you love giving  someone a particularly thoughtful gift? Wouldn’t it ennoble your company when the organization is known for giving really useful and important gifts to those in its sphere of influence?
  • The Stretch – Giving Freebies is important but relatively easy.  What happens to a person or group when they give something costly to someone or some cause that matters. I saw that look in the eyes of husbands, sisters, and friends when I did a 3-day Breast Cancer walk a few years back.  Precisely because it cost something big – three days of their life and some pretty impressive blisters –  they have a bond and a willingness to pitch in well beyond what they would have felt if they had just thrown money in a bucket.

So here’s something to think about. What opportunity do you have to practice Generosity this season and in the coming year?

  • I have colleagues and former clients who are out of work right now.  You probably do too.  It’s likely they feel more vulnerable, confused, and unable to “pay” for your favors than ever.  Now is the time to practice Generosity.
  • Do you have a colleague who is new to your company or industry? No, they can’t help you much yet. They’re green. It’s a perfect time for Generosity.
  • Do you have a colleague who is trying to do something important for your organization – maybe a game-changing effort that requires her to stretch beyond her job description? It’s a perfect time for Generosity.
  • Is there a young leader who is moving into a big new job in your organization and who could use your experience shared over a lunch? It’s a perfect time for Generosity.
  • Is there someone in a different team who has excelled at something or even failed gloriously while taking a smart, calculated risk? What might a handwritten note mean to them? It’s a perfect time for Generosity.

The Christmas story is not only about Santa and elves or even my childhood favorite Grinch, though the original St. Nick was a pretty radical guy. At its core, it’s a story of an invasion and an overturning of the way things are so that a better way can rule. It’s a story of insane generosity. Let’s cooperate with that and see where it takes us.