Ep 116: Leadership Sandtraps #2 – Generosity In Spades
There’s a saying that says everything should be done in moderation. Generosity is definitely one of those. Even in a leadership position, being too generous doesn’t always develop into something positive. In this episode, Adam Quiney talks about generosity in spades as a sand trap in leadership. He discusses how this behavior actually affects those that are around you in their development as professionals. Also, how it impacts your development and improvement as a leader yourself. Join Adam as he shares an unconventional yet effective strategy that can assist you in developing leadership in others.
Listen to the Episode Here:
Leadership Sandtraps #2 – Generosity In Spades
We’re talking about leadership sandtraps. We are on to Leadership Sandtrap #2. We’re talking about Generosity in Spades. It sounds nice. Who wouldn’t want to be around someone that generous? As is always the case, I’m going to start right at the top, making a caveat here that simply reading conversations about leadership rarely will create you as a leader. I’m not trying to turn you off this show, rather make an invitation to go deeper, to not stop at the book you’ve read or the podcast you’re listening to.
If you want to take yourself deeper into this work, if you want to be able to transform yourself and transform others and create something profound, beyond the realm of what you’re already reliable and predictable to be able to create, I want to invite you to come and join us in The Forge. It is a nine-month transformational program for coaches and leaders. Some of the things you’d get out of this program are deepening your ability to enroll people in whatever you’re committed to, whether that’s your business, service, offerings as a coach, your project as a leader that you want to bring into the world. You deepen your self and your being so that you don’t leave with a bunch of information in your head that you then have to try to figure out how to exercise and make happen. You leave with that integrated with your bones.
It’s like learning how to ride a bike. You don’t have to answer a bunch of questions in your mind about how to ride a bike, you get on the bike and ride. That’s part of what we create in The Forge. You hone and master the art, science, and skill of coaching, the magic of it so that you can take other people as deep as you have gone yourself. Coaching is a skill by which we develop leadership. It deepens your ability to develop more leaders. It’s a nine-month program that includes a retreat somewhere gorgeous. If that is something that might interest you, go to EverGrowthCoaching.com/the-forge.
What Does It Mean To Be Generous?
Let’s get to our sandtrap, which is Generosity in Spades. This is the sandtrap that is caused by people when they’re willing to do everything for everyone. Incredible generosity, super reliable. I alluded to this a little bit in the examples I gave when we were talking about sandtraps at a high-level concept. The summary for this is someone operating in this sandtrap will tend to be incredibly reliable to take care of whatever struggles everyone else is having. These are the people that are incredible team players. They will inevitably subsume what their projects require of them in service of helping other people take on their work. It’s almost like an allergic reaction to seeing other people struggle. As soon as they see a struggle, they’re likely to drop what they’re doing and go over here and help you out.
How does this get created? This sandtrap gets created when people are innately generous. Remember, we talked about how your strong suit is a function of who you are. These people bring generosity into space. You’ve been around people like this. You’ll get it immediately. They discover, train, or learn that being generous gets them appreciation, recognition, love, respect, whatever. Being generous is right and selfishness is held in poor esteem. Selfish is bad. It’s something you do not want to be. Generosity in spades gets created as an automatic in any situation where it’s not clear what to do. When in doubt, it turns to support other people. Don’t ask for your support, that would be selfish. Help other people first. Find every single person around you and put their oxygen mask on.
Let’s look at the two ends of the spectrum of the sandtrap. Remember that we look at this like there’s a receiving end and a giving end for every particular leadership sandtrap. This holds true for every pattern and every sandtrap. If you were to send in some sandtraps and be like, “Adam, I’m pretty certain this is a one-way sandtrap.” I’d love it if you do that. If you think that you found a sandtrap that only goes one direction, let me know. Send an email to PR@AdamQuiney.com so that we can break that down and show you how it has two ways of playing out. It’s a fun way. Fun in the way that seeing yourself in the mirror isn’t always that much fun but we’ll call it fun to try to get you to do it.
One of the fun ways of doing this is to notice what you’re complaining about as far as your boss, co-worker, parents or whoever is concerned, and relate to that as one end of the spectrum of any particular sandtrap, “They always steal all the credit.” Consider that whatever you’re doing is the other end of that sandtrap. You’re in that dynamic with them. Consider that you, in some places in your life, do the same thing you’re complaining about with your boss, co-worker, or whatever, to someone else playing out the other side of that spectrum. We always are playing both sides of a sandtrap. That’s often hard to come to terms with, especially when we’re vilifying how it’s showing up out there.
Two Ends Of The Spectrum
With generosity in spades, when into the spectrum, people will always seem to be spending their time supporting other members of their team with whatever it is they need, “Roger, what’s the status update on your project?” “Kool Moe Dee over here needed my help with Project Excelsior.” That’s always going to be the conversation. These people are always going to have their help needed somewhere else. Not only will they look for opportunities to provide people help, but remember that we create the way people relate to us through our strong suit in our sandtrap. Not only are these people going to look for people to help but they’re also going to be the go-to person that people ask for help from because they’re always willing to provide it.
On the other end of the spectrum, these people will tend to need the help of other people and tend quickly towards overwhelm when it comes to their own projects. They almost seem to have this infinite resource of energy, time, and commitment available for other people’s projects. For their projects, they quickly become overwhelmed, fall to pieces, and need help. This leadership sandtrap tends to work at its best. What I mean by work is it tends to thrive in contexts that require a lot of teamwork or things like paired coding. Paired coding is extreme programming. You know something is extreme by the way when it doesn’t have that E on the front of it. It used to be that a little lowercase E on the front of something meant it was a big business idea in the early aughts. Now you take that E off, that makes it xtreme.
Extreme Programming is a programming methodology where two people code together, one person typing and the idea is you catch bugs faster. Even though you’re using twice the resources, a bug that gets through your testing process requires way more than twice the resources to remedy. In situations like that, paired coding, a lot of teamwork, this tendency tends to thrive because they’re not on their own. Self-directed or individual work, especially work of leadership because leadership is not a paired thing, that work can be highly problematic. You’ll notice the tendency in these people with this predictive sandtrap is to create clustering, either circling around those they’re helping or drawing in other people to help them distracting those people from their work.
What’s sandtrap-y about this? One of the things that’s sandy about this particular sandtrap is that it looks incredibly helpful. When you have team members taking on the unknown, they’ll likely end up overworked and overwhelmed. Especially when their approach is either the same version of the sandtrap or maybe they’ve got a sandtrap that’s that whole double down and try to work so much harder than other people, which dovetails with this perfectly. It’s going to be a natural fit. When people are pushing out beyond the realm of being able to do things the way they already have known how to do them, they’re going to reach for their strong suit. They’re going to reach for those tools they know, and they’re going to try to use them extra hard. That’s going to create overwhelm.
It’s going to create overwork, which is the perfect place for this sandtrap to then show up like a rescuer and give them help. What’s happening is that they are robbing the other person of their breakthrough because they are preventing the breakdown from happening. Remember that breakdown is the point where we finally surrender what isn’t working. It’s where we have to come to terms with the fact that if I have a tool that’s a hammer and I’m used to hammering everything into the wall with it and that’s the only thing I know to do, there has to be a point where I keep trying to hammer something. Eventually, I get to the point where I’m like, “This isn’t working.” Often, that breakdown comes in the face of people being overwhelmed, overworked, and are like, “Fuck it. I can’t keep doing this.”
When people bring generosity in spades and run out their pattern to be generous and supportive of these people, they delay them getting to that point. It’s what we might call a classic enabler and recovery work. It’s someone that delays the person that gets in the way of the person hitting rock bottom. Pointing to this sandtrap is especially challenging too because the team member will almost inevitably defend their actions, as we all will, and they’re going to defend them as being helpful and being a team player. They’re going to argue that you’re asking them to be selfish and/or not help someone who needs it. The people they’re helping almost certainly are overwhelmed and overworked.
This is challenging because, on the one hand, they’re right about what they’re pointing to, which is this person is overwhelmed and overworked. On the other hand, that doesn’t matter because that’s what’s in the way of the breakthrough. This is part of the challenge of these leadership sandtraps. In creating leadership, you’re going to have to be willing and intentionally creating breakdowns. When you take away this bonus help from the overwhelmed person, they’re going to have to go through their breakdown. You’re going to be supporting the person to create that. You’re intentionally having them get to the point of their breakdown so that they can carry the breakthrough on the other side. It’s tricky because already this person is going to argue and point to this. If you’re not clear on the sandtrap at play here and clear about how it shows up for you and all of that stuff, you’re going to get drawn into their argument. They’re going to convince you.
The other function of how the sandtrap is trappy is that as a leader we’re naturally averse to break downs. That’s our humanity. You have to steel yourself to the fact that you’re going to be operating in the face of your resistance. When you have a team that feels overwhelmed and overworked, you don’t want to take away support from them. You don’t want to do that and yet that’s what you must do, at least with regards to this sandtrap. Sometimes you’ll have a sandtrap. That sandtrap we talked about people doubling down and working harder than anyone else, their breakthrough is probably going to come from being willing to ask for support rather than have someone step into it with them.
When your team seems overwhelmed and overworked, you don’t want to add to that. How are they going to feel about you as you take away the support they have? There’s a real moment of leadership where you have to be clear and supported yourself like, “I’m doing this because it’s going to create a breakdown. I’m creating that breakdown because of the breakthrough I see to create here on the other side.” There’s a bit of a challenge here, which is that developing leadership is a little bit like lifting weights at the gym. When you lift weights at the gym, you don’t want to lift what you already can lift. You have to go a little bit outside of your range of ability so that your muscles break down and then regrow stronger. If you only ever lifted what your muscles evolved to do, they would stay the same. On the one hand, we need to lift outside of our range. At the same time, if you’ve gone to the gym twice and you’re trying to benchpress 500 pounds, you’re setting yourself up for injury. That’s not going to serve you.
Part of your job as a leader is to work with your people and assess where they’re at. Is this a case where someone is too far beyond their range? Their overwhelm is a function of like, “They need support. I’m putting too much on them.” Is their overwhelm a function of the stress of being out on the edge, out on the skinny branches? As you’ve probably guessed at this point, the way you do that is working with a coach, working with a leader, getting into groups like The Forge, or whatever it is so that you can be supported in having the same thing manifested and expressed for yourself. As you start to see it over here, it gets a lot easier to see over there. This sandtrap adds to the complexity of that calculus. It makes it all harder to get a sense of where is this person at when this team member is naturally pouring more support on as a way of staying safe and people are receiving that support as a way of staying safe.
That being said, how do we work with this thing? The bottom line is that when support is required, it should be brought by the person needing that support to you, to the leader, so you can be aware of these things and work with them. You can keep developing the leadership, the person bringing that support. I always want people whose leadership I’m developing to come to me for support because then I can work with them. It’s like, “What’s going to set them free here to give them more support? Is it a conversation where we distinguish what’s going on and have them choose a new one?”
When a team member has this generosity in spades thing, where they’re always on automatically needing to support people, this lets them get away with looking like they’re doing their work while getting to avoid that which is most confronting for themselves. That’s the first problem. The second is that it removes you from that support thing. It stops the person who would benefit from coming to you and asking from coming to you and asking because this generosity in spades person shows up and starts supporting them. That’s toxic. A part of this is it cuts out someone’s capacity to develop as a leader and it does so in a subtle, nice feeling seeming way. You want to look for the people in your team that always seem to be helping everyone else. What’s the breakthrough you see for them? What’s the opportunity that might become available in their lives if they had to set that down for a while? A lot of these sandtraps, the work to be done is to help the person distinguish what’s going on to help them see what’s at play and then invite them to put down their strong suit.
One simple example for you was when I was getting trained in my leadership, I was leading a lot at the front of the room, running a lot of exercises, doing a lot of coaching with people developing leadership. The person working with me at the end of the weekend said, “Adam, I noticed you use your humor a lot to make people like you. If you feel a little uncomfortable, you bring humor into it. I’m going to invite you to stop using humor for the next six months.” I was like, “Are you crazy? I love my humor.” He said, “I love it too. We all do. I noticed it’s a strong suit for you. It’s a real safety net. If you set down that crutch, you’re going to have to develop new muscles.” That’s often what we’re doing with a sandtrap.
For these team members, you want them to see that there’s something they never take on in their lives, their project, as a result of always helping other people. You invite them to set down that tendency to be uber generous with people. Stop helping other people. Let them come to me for support. They can be supported but only if you are willing to allow them to come to their leader and ask for it. That’s going to be edgy for these people because they’re going to have to be with the pain of seeing other people overwhelmed, overworked, and struggling.
The thing is that by managing other people’s pain of being overwhelmed, overworked and struggling, they don’t have to be without in themselves. The opportunity is to invite people to stop jumping these people. Be selfish. Work on your project. It’s not even selfish but never mind that. Set down the generosity. You’re on a break from helping other people. Look for the opportunities that might become available for the people that are constantly being supported. The people that are on the receiving end of this generosity in spades, what if that free, automatic, always their support was taken away? What would these people then have to create for themselves? What would they have to become responsible for getting as a leader? What would they have to start bringing to you if they didn’t always have this other person to rely on? These are the places we’re looking at when we’re developing leadership.
Finally, you want to be sure to acknowledge the gift and the opportunity of your people with the sandtrap first so it’s clear that you appreciate the innate generosity and team playery-ness that they’re bringing into space. We don’t want to vilify this. We do want to acknowledge the gift that this is. As soon as we make it bad, the person either will make it bad themselves and then try to obliterate this tendency or we give them a thing to resist against, a thing to defend against. We want to get away from that.
We want to be clear like, “We love how generous you are. One of the things that’s beautiful about you is I can always rely on you in a pinch to be the one to put your hand up to say yes to whatever needs to happen. As a leader, I’m committed to your leadership. What I noticed is that there’s a way things go for you, where as soon as you’re confronted, your stuff falls down the ladder.” Part of the impact of this tendency is that these people rarely have their own needs met because they’re busy servicing other people. There might be a breakthrough not here but everywhere in your life for you to get your stuff done, for your project to be the one that moves forward, for your well-being to be the one that gets handled, for your wants and desires to get met. This is the place where we’re practicing it. Can you see that there might be a breakthrough? Everywhere in your life.
To break something like this up and in every sandtrap, your job as a leader is to help people get enrolled and the opportunity of their breakthroughs. Insisting that they simply drop heads will have people do what you tell them to do or it will have them resist you but it’s not going to create the breakthrough. You’ve got to work with them to take a look and say, “Imagine if. What does this make impossible in your life where you always have to go and help people?” “Could you please answer the question?” Don’t argue with me that you don’t think you do it.
Generosity in spades, it’s a challenging place. It’s a challenging sandtrap for the leader and the people that are running this pattern. You can make a tremendous difference in their lives and create shifts when you start to zero in on this. If you’d like to go deeper with that, The Forge is a great place to do it. We talk about all of these things. One of the things that’s cool is I get a little bit of correspondence through this podcast. Some people email me and provide something and I’m always grateful for that, but it’s not in real time. With The Forge, we get the opportunity to have these conversations in real time with you and work with them as they’re showing up and help you see what’s going on the other side of the table and work with that. If that interests you, check out our website at EverGrowthCoaching.com/the-forge. If you have a particular sandtrap or something that you find that you’re up against, send me an email and let me know about it. It’s PR@AdamQuiney.com.
About Adam Quiney
I’m an obsessive perfectionist, high-performer, former lawyer, and now an Executive Mentor. I know what it’s like to succeed easily and quickly. To blindly put my happiness in the hands of achievement.
All the success, money and possessions in the world couldn’t cure my boredom. Couldn’t produce a loving, intimate relationship with my wife…and definitely couldn’t fulfill me.