The third energetic law is the law of Giving and Receiving. This law is: “You are able to receive something precisely to the extent that you are able to give it. And, you are able to give something precisely to the extent you are able to receive it.”

The best-known aphorism that speaks to this law is the quote by Indira Gandhi, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”

The best way to illustrate this law is to show it in the context of leadership. There, this law most often shows up in the realm of love.

Leaders are more than willing to heap praise on their direct reports, teams and peers — and that’s all fine and good. What this law does is help us understand why that isn’t enough, and in fact, the more the leader focuses on how much they are putting out to other people, the further they get from the real opportunity for their leadership.

Consider these two contradictory principles we are taught by the world around us:

1. People need to feel appreciated, to receive praise, and to be acknowledged for their value; and 2. If we need to be acknowledged, appreciated or receive praise, it’s needy or weak. We should just know our own value and be self-reliant.

From the second bullet, we learn that we should be self-sufficient. We shouldn’t need the praise of other people. In fact, the less reliant we are on it, the better.

In order to meet the requirements of the second bullet, we slowly but surely remove our need for acknowledgment and recognition. Ha! Now we’re not reliant on anyone.

But alas, in doing so, we also made it impossible for anyone’s acknowledgment or recognition to make a difference. We’re entirely self-sufficient. There’s no room, or, frankly, need, for anyone else.

But, we’ve got that first bullet to contend with, along with all the memes and books on leadership screaming at us. So, while we have suppressed the internal (fundamentally-human) need for recognition and acknowledgment, we’re still going to pay it out to these other people.

Who presumably haven’t yet achieved the same … level of leadership … that we have.

Now that we’ve set that up, consider the impact of receiving acknowledgment from someone in this place.

Because the leader has rendered unnecessary, superfluous, or weak, what they are offering to us, it can only ever land as a platitude. Recognition, love, acknowledgment or whatever else someone tries to offer from this place will never land. It’s like planting a million trees in soil that has no nutrients. The action is futile because the ground upon which it springs is barren.

The leader doesn’t intend it this way. But that’s irrelevant — this law operates below the level of our intention.

Finally, when the leader notices that their words are having no impact, they double-down, putting more attention on their doing, trying to reiterate their appreciation more forcefully, more vociferously, and through even grander mechanisms, while continuing to miss the mark.

Until the leader is really willing to come to terms with their own, basic, human frailty — that we rely on and need others — they will never be able to truly provide that kind of support to those they lead.

This law exists everywhere. While I’ve broken it down using the example of leaders and love, this applies the same with your ability to forgive others (“Oh, I forgive people, but I never let myself off the hook”), your capacity to trust people (“Well, I trust people, I just know that crooks can be anywhere, and so I’m always keeping my eye open for myself. But I totally trust other people”) and everything else you try to give to other people but are unwilling to receive.

Lastly, this law is bi-directional. To finish up, let’s imagine a leader that doesn’t like giving feedback (because it makes people feel bad or is received as critical), but recognizes the value of receiving it.

This leader will do everything in their power to receive feedback, but they’re doing so over top of their disempowered relationship to feedback. From here, their only options are to completely collapse and subsume themselves to the feedback, or resist it. There’s no real, authentic ability to actually receive feedback.

How could there be? The leader has a story that providing feedback is hurtful and critical, and consequently, they’re going to receive every piece of feedback through that same lens. At best, they’ll let it through, but do so with clenched teeth and a solemn willingness to discover how they currently suck.

This law helps us resolve issues in our leadership where we are frustrated that people aren’t receiving what we are providing them, or giving us what we need — where are we unwilling to receive or give the same thing ourselves?




Learn more about each of the The Energetic Laws of Leadership here.