In our common understanding of this virtue, altruism manifests itself through the act of giving back to our communities: serving at a soup kitchen for the homeless, planning a fundraiser for a children’s charity, or running for public office. Altruism is the selfless concern for the well-being of others. No matter how someone chooses to donate their skills or their time, altruism drives selfless actions motivated by an intrinsic desire to make the world a better place for everyone in it. Although, what does altruism have to do with leadership? If an organization’s mission is altruistic in nature, does it automatically make management itself equally altruistic? The answers to these questions are of paramount importance and often overlooked.
In order to understand more clearly the place altruism should occupy in a professional environment, let us remind ourselves of one of the most valued characteristics of any healthy and successful organization operating in either the private, public, or non-profit sector. What we know for sure is that people within an organization need to feel that their contribution is valuable. A multitude of studies and countless books that delve into the topic of employee retention can back up this claim. Additionally, I am certain that if you looked back on your own professional experience, you would remember feeling motivated after receiving validating feedback on a project. You might recall a time when you felt energized after an uplifting conversation with your superior about a consequential deal you had just closed. Whatever the situation, our sense of professional efficacy – whether individual or collective – is inextricably linked to the presence or absence of validation in the workplace. I categorically reject the shame that is often thrust upon someone who takes their work personally; there is nothing shameful about a taking the work you do to heart. After all, we take something personally because we care, and in turn, we produce quality work for people and projects we care about. My productive colleagues who deliver meaningful results have – without exception – been those who possess a healthy level of personal investment in the success of our organization. I can attest to the fact that the registered charity I work with has achieved its successes in no small part because its people take our mission and ambitious goals personally.
My productive colleagues who deliver meaningful results have – without exception – been those who possess a healthy level of personal investment in the success of our organization.
Conversely, observe ineffective people in the workplace and you will see a pattern of consistent absenteeism, disinterest, or a display of other behaviours that read as a lack of investment. We can go into another discussion about the root causes of such withdrawal – one that I advise is an important one to have with your colleagues and employees when such is the case in your workplace. However, I will focus on the other group of effective people for the purpose of this article.
Those previously mentioned publications on employee retention also remind us of what happens when valuable employees do not feel validated in the workplace. Similarly, I am certain that you have experienced – just as I have – what eventually happens when you are innately driven by the mission of your company or the role you occupy yet feel unappreciated. This unfortunate eventuality is precisely why it is a mistake to relegate the demonstration of altruism to the practice of charitable acts of generosity. It is a mistake to not see this value for how it can be applied to our professional lives. When altruism characterizes your leadership style, your contribution to the overall climate of your workplace can be eminently consequential. Giving back to your community delivers the same impact as does giving back to your employees. Altruism is an essential trait that is personified by the most effective leaders in the most successful multinational companies, public schools, local corner stores, neighborhood libraries, small businesses, and non-profit organizations.
The extent to which you take care of your employees, colleagues, or volunteer workers is the most revealing barometer of your effectiveness and legitimacy as a leader. Management’s ability to recognize the people of great value in an organization, coupled with their ability to raise these people up to a place where they see, understand, and – most importantly – feel appreciated, is a determining factor of organizational health.
Reinvent your talent sourcing processes so that they reflect the notion that the most highly effective hires are those candidates who are intrinsically motivated by your mission.
If you aspire to be an effective leader – and I believe you ought to if you are responsible for the success of a project or team – then you must not curb or quash the inherent sense of responsibility within your valuable employees. Unfortunately, such a tendency can often be an unconscious one. In any case, it is at the root of high turnover rates, employee divestment, and loss of credibility on the part of managers. You must be continuously mindful of the importance of validation. Locate your most valuable contributors to seek out their ideas and involve them in strategic planning. Reinvent your talent sourcing processes so that they reflect the notion that the most highly effective hires are those candidates who are intrinsically motivated by your mission. Then, seek out talent that evidences a belief that their altruism will secure the success and longevity of your organization.
When people are innovative, creative, caring, and dedicated, the people we work with are the only source of our organization’s success. We must embody altruism and surround ourselves with the kind of people who will bring our organization’s mission statement to life. Altruism just makes good business sense.
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