Giving is Good

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When I quit my secure job and started my firm, I did so because I believed I could build an office that emphasized service over billing. The goal was to help people turn adverse events into opportunities to build their careers and businesses. Four years later, I work with a team that is focused on aligning with client goals, improving skills, working together and providing the best service possible. And, I was able to build that team because I am surrounded by givers.

I learned about Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, first from my office manager and then from my husband. In March of this year, my office manager sent me a link to a New York Times Magazine titled “Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?” The article spotlighted Adam Grant and his study of workplace dynamics. A few weeks later, I saw my husband reading Grant’s book. As he progressed through the book, he kept exclaiming that “this book is your philosophy.” The book is all about how giving generates success.

Grant identifies three types of workplace personalities; takers, matchers and givers. Takers work to get ahead by getting whatever they can out of others. Matchers keep score, giving to get. And, givers contribute without expectation.

Grant challenges the old adage “nice guys finish last.” He doesn’t deny the fact that we all know takers (and matchers) who are wildly successful. Instead, he reveals that it’s the givers who are at the top (and the bottom) of the success ladder.

Lawyers have the ultimate opportunity to be givers or takers. We work in an industry where many of us are run by the billable hour; a system that encourages takers. Bill every hour for any reason. Squeeze the system for personal gain. But, we also work in an industry built on service. We have an opportunity every day to help our clients, our colleagues, our friends and our community. In small and large ways, we can be givers of our time, our expertise, our networks, and our finances. It is no wonder that the first story chronicled in Grant’s book is about Abraham Lincoln.

Giving and givers have shaped my legal career. When I was in law school, working full time during the day as a marketing director and going to school at night, I served as president of the evening law students association. During my final semester at school, I sent out a welcome letter to newly admitted law students. A few weeks later, I received a call at work from a woman who worked nearby who received that letter. It was the first notice she had received confirming her admittance to law school. She was ecstatic and wanted to go to lunch to pick my brain about law school and working full time.

I sat waiting at the restaurant a few days later. A woman who looked to be in her late forties to early fifties approached my table. Her excitement was palpable. She sat down and immediately started talking. She told me that she was 56 years old. Her name is Sara. She was a Managing Director at Marsh, a large insurance broker. And, she loved to work. “I want to work until I’m 100 years old,” she said. I laughed, but she was serious. She explained that eventually Marsh would want her to retire and law school was her back-up plan. She asked about first year course work, managing time, and even asked how to pass the Illinois bar exam. At the end of the lunch, I told her I would do whatever I can to help her with law school.

I did not realize it at the time, but Sara would turn out to be one of the biggest influences on my career. She introduced me to my first boss out of law school. And, she became a friend who has championed my membership in prestigious business organizations. Although her career forced her to take a break from law school, our friendship has endured. Because I was willing to give a little time out of my day to talk about law school and the challenges that lay ahead, I ended up having doors open that I never even knew existed.

My experience with Sara taught me that everyone can be a giver and that sometimes you can give without even realizing it. Grant’s book emphasizes that point and confirms my belief that giving is the past path to success in business and in life.