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Leading with Generosity using Jocko Willink and Seth Godin

Jocko Willink:

Lead up and down the chain of command. Just because you are not in a position of leadership does not mean you cannot influence the decisions of those around you.

Seth Godin:

Play the generosity game. Every time you do something generous for someone and they cannot reciprocate you get a point.

Seth Godin inspired me years ago to try the generosity game. It is simple. Give yourself a point every time you do something generous for someone and they do not reciprocate the generosity. If they give you something in return you do not get the point.


This game has led me to a much more enjoyable life. On the soccer field when someone makes a comment that would usually cause me to return an insult or correction I often say nothing and simply take the generosity point. All too often everyone’s life is easier as we simply move on from the foolishness. This can be used much more broadly and works in everything from emails, to scheduling, to working harder for those around you because you know they will feel better for it.


Mix this with Jocko’s practice of leading up and down the chain of command to really get group work flowing smoothly especially when I’m NOT in a position of leadership. Approaching difficult tasks like dividing up the workload and checking up on other people’s tasks that might be slowing down your work become easier to tackle.


Lead up and down the chain of command: Take the time to influence the leader of the group thoughtfully, and generously. Don’t just complain and disagree with their approach to a project, ask questions curiously and kindly to see if you can change their mind. Take the time to make sure you’re in the proper headspace to think through and make sure you completely understand their approach and if it isn’t working try to help them see that as quickly and kindly as possible.

Take on more work for your colleagues if it seems like they need help. Take the extra time to write your emails in a lighter easier manner so your communication feels easier and helps everyone feel more comfortable.


Finally, make sure that you’re being generous to yourself. It is not possible for you to be in the mindset where others can enjoy your company and work if you do not take care of yourself. Setting aside time to meditate, exercise, and enjoy family/friends is important so that you're in the best state of mind you can be for helping to lead your group. Being generous to yourself often seems to conflict with being generous to others and Jocko likes to call these conflicts The Dichotemies of Leadership (among other things). I believe, however, if you can use leading up and down the chain of command generously as a compass and even a game, you’ll be happier and more effective in your work with groups.

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