Leadership and Generosity of Spirit

“Great wisdom is generous; petty wisdom is contentious” ~Zhuangzi

A generosity of spirit for people of any station is an appropriate attitude for everyone to have and exhibit year round in the workplace, in the community and in the home. It is even more appropriate for a generosity of spirit to be exhibited at the holiday season, particularly by those that find themselves in a position of leadership.

So what is a “generosity of spirit?” Of course the word generosity implies giving and giving freely, usually some kind of tangible gift—money, material, time, resources. “Generosity of spirit” is freely giving intangible gifts—sympathy, understanding, kindness and forgiveness. Both forms of generosity give without an expectation of reciprocity.

Like many things, generosity of spirit might be best defined by what it is not. It is not villainizing those who disagree or whose opinions differ. It is not thinking the worst of those who whose actions displease or disappoint. It is not attributing evil motives and designs to the words and actions of others. It is not prejudging. It is not stereotyping. It is not stewing in anger. It is not vengeance. It is not carrying a grudge. It is not stirring up others or spreading gossip.

On the other hand, generosity of spirit is the realization that no one is perfect—not even one’s self. Generosity gets expressed by ignoring an awkward or impolite comment or moment. It is manifested by understanding that everyone has a bad day now and then and is not at their best. Generosity is demonstrated when a mistake is made and the temptation of seek out and punish the guilty is resisted. It is present when one asks “what could I have done differently?” instead of blaming others. Generosity of spirit is forgiving others immediately of real or imagined trespasses. A generous person focuses on the future rather than toting around a backpack full of past offenses, hurt feelings and debts to be settled.

To be sure, the human impulse is to be selfish and contentious. Generosity is empathetic and requires a willingness to put others above self. When we are generous with other we raise them up and buoy their spirits. We remove obstacles to success; we lift burdens; we heal wounds. We make people, teams and organizations better.

When we are generous in spirit we are more effective leaders; we make better decisions and we become the kind of person others want to be around and people want to follow.

We should be generous in spirit all the time. In particular, we should be generous in spirit this time of year when we are already demonstrating our material generosity through gift giving. As we celebrate this season, may we strive to show more sympathy, understanding, kindness and forgiveness with our co-workers and our clients as well as with our families and our friends. Let us further pledge to be more generous in spirit in the upcoming year in business, in public service, in politics and in public discourse.

Scott O. Konopasek has been a public sector manager for 25+ years combined with more than 5 years consulting experience with public entities on organizational effectiveness and transformational change. He has a BA from BYU and an MA in Political Science from the University of Utah.

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