Coaching a leadership mindset in a team of ‘givers’ and ‘takers’

Leadership Blog

Emily Wright

Written by Emily Wright

Coaching a leadership mindset in a team of ‘givers’ and ‘takers’

Coaching mindset and performance – which can broadly be described as a set of beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that enable individuals and teams to perform at their best – is on the rise in many workplaces.

While traditionally mindset performance has been seen primarily as a way of getting more out of others, modern thinking around empathic mindset coaching has shown its effectiveness in creating authentic, collaborative organisational cultures.

In this article, Emily Wright discusses how leaders can identify and manage ‘givers’ and ‘takers’ within their teams, and coach a leadership mindset that delivers a healthy workplace culture and empowers the right people.


Identifying ‘givers’ and ‘takers’ within your team

In his Are you a giver or a taker? TED talk, Adam Grant explores the differences between workplace ‘givers’ and ‘takers’. Givers contribute to others without seeking anything in return, but takers get others to serve their needs while guarding their own resources.

Interestingly, givers are shown to be simultaneously the highest and lowest team performers in studies, with a tendency to serve others while sacrificing themselves. In contract, it is the influence of takers on the emotional climate of organisations that can have the largest negative impact. Takers tend to serve their own needs, while guarding their own resources.

Grant explains how the negative impact of a taker can be double or triple that of a giver, and letting just one taker onto a team makes everyone else more self-protective. Ultimately, this leads to increased levels of paranoia and distrust between people.

Grant suggested two further sets of characteristics within this notion of the giver/taker dynamic: agreeableness and disagreeableness and where these traits intersect. 

‘Disagreeable givers’, for example, will complain and provide an uncomfortable amount of resistance. However, they will ultimately contribute in a way that makes for a better organisation. ‘Agreeable takers’ on the other hand, will say ‘yes’ to those above them, but kick down at anyone below who does not serve their needs.


Giving tools to the right people

 It's crucial that leaders become aware of the intersection between ‘agreeableness’ and ‘givers’, so they can promote the value of being ‘disagreeable’. Likewise, discourage the behaviours of ‘takers’ in the context of mindset coaching, because ‘agreeable takers’ are so effective in serving their own agendas as a priority. They also set a dangerous organisational-wide precedent that it’s okay to succeed by being selfish.

At Achieve Breakthrough, the Breakthrough Thinking we champion in mindset coaching and influencing others comes with a certain amount of cautionary messaging inbuilt. In the hands of givers and those who are able to use it to challenge the status quo, it's powerful stuff. On the flip side, it can also arm agreeable takers with the tools to drain resources and energy from entire teams.

There is, of course, a spectrum at play here. The percentage of outright takers reading this article will be very small, but all of us can afford to increase our awareness to make sure our motives stay true. Grant quotes Professor Brian Little – that we want to take a ‘pronoia’ stance “the delusional belief that other people are plotting your well-being, or saying nice things about you behind your back.”


The leader as a coach

Many leaders adopt leader-as-coach stances to help teams and employees gain both short-term and long-term wins, and coaching will almost certainly become a core skill of future leadership practice.

But compared to an objective coach from outside an organisation, even the most well-intentioned leader-coaches within companies have a potential conflict of interest from the get-go. Unknowingly, influenced by the organisational culture they operate in.

If they are under too much strain, leaders might start to use coaching methods to “empower” their team in a toxic way – by encouraging them to stop seeking help. But help is exactly what the givers in our organisations need to stay clear of burnout.

Organisations need to be aware of how the taker dynamic can skew a coaching approach to leadership. We also need to be proactive in assessing giver versus taker characteristics among those who have direct reports. That way we can be sure we’re coaching the givers found within our teams away from burnout and towards a supportive, help-seeking equilibrium.

Looking to make collaboration work? Get in touch to explore how we can help you ignite your leadership and business ambitions.


Published 07/05/2024

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