Dhanada Kanta Mishra
sychologists often divide humans into three categories – those that give more than they take, those that tend to take more than they contribute and a third group that tends to balance their giving and taking from any given situation. We meet such individuals in everyday life. In his book titled ‘Give and Take’, organisational psychologist Prof Adam Grant of Wharton Business School shares some very interesting insights from his research into human psychology in this context.
Among all professions, politics tends to be dominated most by takers as was articulated eloquently by former president of the USA, Bill Clinton. Politics for him was a profession that involved only ‘taking’ in that one has to take donations, take volunteers’ work, take votes, seek support etc. Hence it would be logical to expect more of ‘takers’ in politics than ‘givers’.
But, there are honourable exceptions. One such was a young 23-year-old Sampson who contested for the Senate in the state of Illinois in early 19th century. He had no experience in politics. There were 13 candidates out of which top four were to be elected. The young man ended up in the eighth position and lost the election. Instead of giving up, he contested again in the next election and got elected.
At that time, he had to borrow money to buy his first suit to attend the Senate. In the meantime, he took up study of law and became a lawyer. But he was not very successful in his practice as he would not take up any case where the facts were not in favour of his clients. At the age of 45, he decided to run for the United States Senate. Initially there were three contestants. Two prominent, rich and experienced legal personalities who had already served in the state high court. Surprisingly, the opinion polls gave him the lead at 44%, with the 2nd contestants at 41% and the third only 5% of the likely votes.
It was found that while a large percentage of givers tend to lag behind their compatriots, the successful among them tend to be at the top of the ladder
The rest were undecided. The equation changed overnight when the popular sitting governor declared his candidature. The new opinion poll indicated a support of 44% for the governor, 38% for Sampson and 9% for the third placed candidate — the 2nd candidate from the earlier round having dropped out. Sampson decided to withdraw his nomination in favour of the third placed candidate because he believed it was important to ensure the governor’s defeat as he had many allegations of corruption. Eventually that’s what happened. The governor ended up with 47% of the votes and the third placed candidate got 51%. This showed a counter-intuitive move for any politician who would place the interest of the people over their own self-interest. This showed Sampson’s giving nature, which was also a factor in his law practice not being successful. He would neither defend a guilty party nor take money from his poor clients. Similar to Mahatma Gandhi or our very own Madhu barrister of Odisha, his unsuccessful law practice became a negative for his politics. In spite of it, he contested again after four years for USA Senate and was successful with the support of the sitting senator who he had helped.
In 1999, a survey in the USA to choose the greatest political leader in its history voted Sampson as the best. His real name was Abraham Lincoln who went on to become the President of the United States in 1860. He is most well-known for his support for the abolition of slavery and winning the American Civil War. He had appointed three of his defeated opponents in his cabinet because each of them was better than him in some field or the other. He was known to be humble, truthful, well-mannered and a sensitive person, which added to his political persona. He was that rare example of one winning without being ruthless, scheming, untruthful and corrupt as a politician. Closer home, there used to be many such examples. Odisha’s chief minister not long after independence, Sri Nabakrushna Choudhury or Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri are both great examples of the same. They proved ‘Nice guys don’t always finish last’ contrary to popular belief.
To understand how one’s nature relates to chances of success at workplace, Prof Grant conducted a study of 160 professional engineers in California and asked them to rank each other with respect to their tendency to help or otherwise. It turned out that most of the mediocre engineers scored highly on the ‘giving’ characteristics. A study in Belgium among medical students yielded a similar result in that most students who tended to help classmates, were more likely to perform poorly in comparison. Among salesmen, givers tend to make 15% less income on average, twice as likely to be victim of crimes and come across 22% less powerful compared to their peers. Does this mean, unlike the example of Abe Lincoln, givers in real life tend to be losers? Surprisingly, the answer is an emphatic NO! In each of the above studies, it was found that while a large percentage of givers tend to lag behind their compatriots, the successful among them tend to be at the top of the ladder.
What then differentiates these winners from those givers who got left behind? There are three main factors – the first being to plan your giving in a way that helped further your own life or career goals. In other words, you need to be thoughtful in your giving and know who to help in what work so that your giving is not at the cost of your own best interest. The second factor is the time and timing of your giving. Being generous is desirable. However one has to be disciplined enough to not only plan it in terms of the amount of time to be spent but also in the distribution of that time. For example, it’s better to limit your giving to a specific day or a time during the day rather than allowing yourself to be disturbed as and when someone needs your help. The third is to choose activities of giving that aligns your personal goals with organisational goals for the best effect on the receiver as well as the giver. It is said success is when preparation and hard work meet opportunity! Organisational behaviour research indicates that team work is increasingly important and a discerning and disciplined giving nature goes a long way to help one achieve excellence.
The author is a civil engineering professor and Principal of KMBB College of Engineering and Technology under BPUT currently visiting Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as a Research Scholar. He can be reached by email at [email protected].