I think a lot of people stereotype generous and helpful people as pushovers, as weak, as not tough and driven enough to be successful.  And I think that is a myth that we really need to break down.  

There is a wonderful executive, Sherryann Plesse, who really stands out as one of these people.  She went through a strengths assessment a couple of years ago and she learned that her greatest strengths were kindness and compassion.  And she immediately said to the people who were doing the assessment, “Don’t tell anyone.  I don’t want to be known as a kind, compassionate person.  I want to be known as tough, achievement-oriented, results driven.”  

And I think that over time what she realized was actually many of her role models were these givers, these people who are extremely helpful and generous.  And that this was not actually something she necessarily had to hide.  But it was actually one of the things that had made her most effective in her job because she was really respected and appreciated as somebody who helped and supported those around her.

And I think that what we need leaders to do is basically to teach people to separate helpfulness and generosity and giving from necessarily being timid, from being available to the point that you drop everything at all times for all people who come to you with a request, and from being so trusting and empathetic that you actually get taken advantage of a lot.  I think there’s a big difference between actually looking for ways to benefit other people and becoming somebody who’s completely exploited or exhausted by helping other people.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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