Intersecting “The Open Organization” and “Give and Take”

Intersecting "The Open Organization" and "Give and Take"


Or, “How does building credibility work?”, “What specific things do people do?”, “How do you become a leader in an open organization?”


In Jim Whitehurst’s book, The Open Organization, he discusses Red Hat’s culture as one in which the passion of the associates leads them to collaborate and debate (sometimes aggressively) the merit of their ideas. Because Red Hat is a meritocracy, the best ideas are chosen because they are the best and not because some high-level leader said they should be chosen. Even leadership at Red Hat is a meritocracy — built on personal credibility and reputation and not on title, or hand-me-down prestige. As I was reading this I started thinking, “how does building credibility work? What specific things do people do? How do you become a leader in an open organization?”

Also on my nightstand is Adam Grant’s book, Give and Take, where he describes the differences between givers, takers, and matchers, and outlines all the ways in which givers excel. (For a TED Talk on this topic, see Are You a Giver or a Taker? from Nov 2016 )

One section from Adam Grant’s book shed some light on the credibility that Jim Whitehurst discusses: how Givers as leaders work with others to collaborate and negotiate solutions.

Givers, it turns out, are better collaborators and negotiators because of the trust, credibility and relationships they build based on five communication techniques (see page 144):

  1. Hesitations: um, well, you know, um…
  2. Hedges: might, possibly, could, maybe…
  3. Disclaimers: I know this might not be the direction you were thinking of, I’m not an expert in this but, This is not part of my job role…
  4. Tag questions: do you think this might work?, what do you think?, that’s interesting isn’t it? …
  5. Intensifiers: really, very, quite….

Normally, all these things point to a lack of confidence — and lacking confidence is bad, isn’t it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Research shows that people are wary of know-it-all pushy leaders who take control and that, at times, working with them leaves a negative feeling behind (did I get all that I needed to in the negotiation? Did I do the right thing?)

It turns out, people prefer the Giver communication style in leaders because it indicates a dismissal of control and power over others in favor of leaders who are collaborative, self-effacing, and non-aggressive who invite employees to participate in problem-solving and decision-making  processes within an organization. Through the questioning, the Giver style focuses on addressing the needs of those participating in the collaboration because it is not all about what the leader wants but is a dialogue that elicits problem statements and innovation solutions that address them. Over time, employees are self-convinced of the merit of solutions since they were intimately involved in the process.

So, one way to interact with proactive employees, and to create proactive employees if your organization doesn’t have them, is to change how you communicate with them. I mean this is an authentic way that truly wants their participation and not a I’m-a-taker-acting-like-a-giver.


Next:  Women Don’t Ask: The reason women often “fail” at negotiation are the same reasons they excel at collaboration and at being Givers…. stay tuned!


Image “The Leader” by David Spinks from Flickr under CC 2.0.




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