Inquiry Leadership Practice: When a “Gift” isn’t a Gift

There is a useful business principal that can help clean up a lot of business issues, confusion and frustrations: Never give gifts with the expectation of getting something in return.

There is a common habit of giving people gifts or opportunities as a way of endearing those people to you or to get more out of them; to create appreciation or, in the extreme, obligation.  As leaders, we can often rationalize it as “generous”, “caring”, or even “loving”.  But, this way of motivating people or bonding people to you unfortunately often creates the opposite.

These types of gifts in business carry a hidden contract; “I have done for you, now you do for me”.  Employees will unconsciously assume that they are entitled to the “gift”.  Leaders can tell they have carried some hidden contract when they feel resentment toward employees.  This way of gifting in business will weaken great employees and amplify problems in others.

When you instead tie “gifts” to what has already been accomplished, we call them rewards.  Rewards are empowering.  Give rewards on what has happened, and don’t expect that they will get you anything more than you have already received.  Make the commitment in yourself that you will address whatever happens in the future with no inner or outer reference to what you have “given” in the past – that is water under the bridge.  This skillful application of rewards is a powerful business practice.

Keep your contracts overt and open with the people who work for you.  Business is not about appreciation, popularity, or buying good will. It’s just simple, clear understandings around performance and accountability.  The moment you feel resentment you can recognize that you have either given yourself away through some form of “gifting”, failed to create accountability, or have unclear agreements.  This is yours to clean up, not your employees.  This is what leaders do.

In every part of life “gifting” with expectations, is not gifting.  With friends and loved ones, the art of true gifting is one of the most beautiful practices we can develop and it is an art worthy of great masters.