Give to Lead – The Hidden Connection

Jul 11, 2020 5 MIN

Give to Lead – The Hidden Connection

Life is fragile. In late May, I got a call from a classmate from business school to give the sad news that one of our mutual friends passed away. Our whole class’s heart broke. Over the subsequent few days, friends started writing notes on his memory wall, and reading the messages made my eyes well up. “I only wish I could have spent more time with him,” echoed in my heart and all of our mutual friend circles. Reading the messages made it abundantly clear what an enriching impact our friend had in so many of our lives – and these were people from all walks of life, literally from every corner of the world. He had sowed deeply into so many relationships, and it was abundantly clear that here was a lifelong Giver who achieved true Greatness in his short but sweet life.

It was a wake-up call for me. We all start out saying, “Let’s create a ding in the Universe.” But life happens. And we forget that our true worth is not going to be measured by our net-worth. But, by how many lives we positively touch in our journey. As I reflected on people I look up to and admire, like Nandan Nilekani, or Girish Mathrubootham (listen from 35:05 to 38:18) – these are people who have achieved peaks professionally and also managed to be consistent givers all along their journeys.

And, unlike what some of us might think, in every sphere, givers end up at the top of every ladder in life as clearly articulated by Adam Grant in his seminal work “Give and Take.” For those who feel that being a giver might hold us back, this is a must-read book. Adam shares success stories across diverse areas such as politics, teaching, media, business, and believe it or not even venture capital.

As we reflect on this topic, it will become abundantly clear that to be a great leader, we benefit from being a consistent giver. Let us examine some close ties between giving and leading.

Give to Lead

No alt text provided for this image

In “Good to Great,” Jim Collins identifies that Level 5 Leadership is one of the critical aspects for any company that wants to be Great (based on research done over a decade). Many of the characteristics highlighted for Level 5 leaders are natural for Givers (as researched by Adam Grant). So much so, it is tough to imagine someone becoming a Great Level 5 leader who has not mastered Giving.

  • Personal humility: Some aspects that stand out for Givers are being self-effacing with less ego and letting the spotlight shine on others. They also practice “powerless communication,” where they listen more, suggest softly, and actively seek advice. These are all great qualities for a Level 5 leader.
  • Indomitable Will: Givers are also known to be very gritty when it comes to a cause they believe in.
  • Ambition for the cause: Givers are known to put the cause before self always, and rallying the team behind the cause. A vital aspect of any true leader.

Some other skills that you associate with Great leaders are also natural for Givers:

  • Building networks: An essential aspect of leadership is building a strong network – and givers are naturally better at this (Adam Grant talks about Adam Rifkin, a super-connector)
  • Spotting ‘Diamonds in the rough’: As a leader, it’s crucial to spot and cultivate great talent, and givers are gifted at this.

Smart Giving

Adam’s research also showed that though givers rise to the top of the pile, some sink to the bottom. Here are some quick thoughts on how to avoid that:

  • Otherish (vs. selfless giving): Giving for a cause does not mean giving up self-interest. Otherish givers care about benefiting others but also help themselves. It’s essential to find an equilibrium. And doing this is key to avoiding burn-out.
  • Dealing with Takers: It is good to have the ability to identify takers and be willing to engage with them in generous tit-for-tat to avoid being run-over
  • Saying No: Giver doesn’t mean one has to say “Yes” to everything and become a push-over. It is also important to set boundaries and be willing to say “No,” especially when it comes to time, which is a genuinely perishable resource.

Building the Giving Muscle

“How do I know who I am until I see what I do.” – E.M. Forster

And finally, for those who might want to give “Giving” a chance, the good news is that anyone can become a giver by practicing it regularly. Studies have shown that for anyone who practices giving (e.g. volunteering time, helping colleagues), the longer they serve, the more it becomes a part of their identity. This could be attributed to a process called internalization or our inherent need to avoid cognitive dissonance. We can make the switch if we consistently do this enough and make it a part of our identity over time. Giving, like most things in life, is a muscle we can all develop.


Let us look at a few practical ways of developing the giving muscle. Three quick applications of the Giver mindset for us to incorporate:

  • 5-min favor: This is the easiest one. If we can do someone a favor that will take us less than 5-minutes to do (e.g., make an introduction for a job), let’s make that a habit. Maybe we can tag and thank folks who did us a 5-min favor that changed our life, as we reflect today.
  • Pay it forward: Instead of only “matching” when someone helps. Givers are good at also paying it forward and keeping the chain of giving going. We can practice this whenever someone helps us. The real joy of giving is when we don’t expect anything in return.
  • Avoid Responsibility Bias: Start by reflecting on others’ contributions before our own whenever assessing a successful project.


The Coach: When I first read about Bill Campbell and listened to this podcast, I couldn’t believe that someone like this could exist. A consistent giver who positively influenced and coached some of the greatest business minds such as Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, and Eric Schmidt – without any compensation. If you haven’t already, don’t miss the book about him “Trillion Dollar Coach“. Here is a rare video interview with the man himself who was always behind the scenes as a ‘Give to Lead’ coach:

The Go-Giver: This is a short but beautiful book that builds on giving as applied to the world of business with five easily implementable but impactful laws (Inscribed in the image) brought to life by a neatly woven story.

No alt text provided for this image


Earlier this year, we witnessed an amazing act of community giving amid the COVID-19 crisis. In an unprecedented move, firms across the Startup and Venture Capital communities in India, came together to establish This initiative has brought together more than 100 volunteers, raised donations of more than Rs 100 Cr, and funded 50+ grants across various categories that have been highly impactful in India’s fight against COVID-19:


“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11: 24-25)

As we read and reflect on this, my hope and prayer are that each of us thinks about how we can leave our respective worlds a better place than what it was yesterday, in whatever we do. Let’s give a little more freely so that we refresh others as we refresh ourselves.