#PassItOn: Lead with generosity and balance give and take
A view from Zara Bryson

#PassItOn: Lead with generosity and balance give and take

The latest instalment of #PassItOn discusses how to be a 'giver' in a competitive environment and lift up your peers.

Welcome back to #PassItOn, a series featuring the best career advice and insight from women of the Futures Network, an alumni group for Wacl Future Leaders Award winners. In this instalment, we hear from Zara Bryson, strategy and innovation director at Publicis Media, who was mentored by Leigh Thomas, director of global clients and categories at Facebook. Bryson talks about balancing give and take, her passion for “shine theory” and her hopes for a more supportive industry.


I started writing this article back in January, before the crisis of 2020 unfolded. But these lessons still ring true, perhaps more so than before.

Whether you have been spurred into HIIT training, sourdough baking, activism and hyper-productivity, or you have found it all profoundly overwhelming and demotivating – perhaps with the added pressure of home-schooling – it is likely that most of us have spent more time reflecting on our values and support systems. This year has given us the space to reflect on how, where and with whom we spend our time.

At first, I was daunted ahead of my mentoring session with Leigh, but we quickly started chatting and bonded over our joint passion for bringing good energy. She asked whether I had read Adam Grant’s book Give and Take (I had not), because she had an inkling that I would fall into Grant’s categorisation of a “giver”.

Her observation took me by surprise, like any personality profiling from someone you have only recently met, but she was on to something.

Grant categorises people into givers, takers or matchers. Broadly speaking, these are based on whether you are more inclined to be supportive of others (givers), to put your own needs consistently above those of others (takers) or try to maintain an equal balance (matchers). Most people fall into the matchers group.

Which is the best group to be in? Well, it’s complicated. Givers tend to be the worst performers across a number of industries, because they tend to sacrifice their success to help others succeed. However, givers are also most likely to be the best performers at work, outperforming matchers and takers, when they are in environments where they are not taken for granted and can channel their giving in line with their values to lift others up.

To be most effective, givers must understand what they have and want to give. What I found was that I did indeed love sharing, collaborating with and supporting others, but I needed to focus with greater clarity on safeguarding my time and defining clearly the help I needed in return.

Here are my tips.

Give (and take)

Know your strengths and be clear on what you have to give (skills, time etc) as well as clearly defining what support you need from people. It shouldn’t be transactional, but there should be some clarity on boundaries, purpose and reciprocity.

Give generously

Give first and give generously without expectation. It’s amazing what support you get in return when you actively support others, but be mindful where this effort is spent.

Give effectively

Carve out protected time for “giving” and encourage and understand the value of what Grant calls the “five-minute favour” – small acts such as feedback or introductions that have disproportionate impact versus time taken.

Give protection

Nurture these behaviours in your teams and organisations, and nurture givers. Consider the balance of teams, avoid takers and ensure that those who are naturally more supportive and collaborative don’t burn out.

This is all very well, you might say, but we work in a competitive industry and we are all trying to progress our own careers, right?

For one, givers (and matchers) forge better, more trusting working relationships and team cultures, so it’s likely to be less lonely at the top when they get there.

But it’s also about creating more space for the success of others. Often, people in our industry are pitted against each other and competition is fostered between peers, yet we also know there remains an under-representation of women and minorities, especially at the top.

I love an approach called “shine theory”, coined by journalists and podcast hosts Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman. It describes the practice of active and mutual investment in relationships, with the simple premise that "I don't shine if you don't shine”. It’s about avoiding the distraction of envy or comparison, being fully invested in your relationships and encouraging others to do the same.

This was one of the key inspirations for my podcast Who’s Next?, which I started last year to shine a light on brilliant women, and this is what it’s taught me.

Mutually supportive relationships

Shine a light on those around you and their successes, and genuinely celebrate them. Surrounding yourself with successful people doesn’t make you look lesser in comparison – confidence is infectious.

Collaboration over competition

Rather than focusing on competition with colleagues, family or friends, are there opportunities for you to learn from their successes or even collaborate with them?

Amplification

Celebrate brilliant work and amplify the voices of those who may be under-represented or ignored – active allyship as a long-term commitment.

Over the past few months, there has been a movement to actively show respect for and celebrate others who support us (front-line workers, teachers, delivery drivers etc) and a similarly belated awakening to the need to support, nurture and champion diverse talent. Through lockdown and when we eventually start to trickle back into the office, I urge you to bring these behaviours with you, so that together we can create a more supportive, productive and representative industry.

Zara is a Futures Network member, strategy and innovation director at Publicis Media, host of the Who’s Next podcast and co-head of strategy at Bloom UK

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