The Need for Generosity: Excerpt from Leading Loyalty

“You give but little while you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give."

—Kahlil Gibran


Generosity, the third of the Three Core Loyalty Principles, is straightforward. Generous people are kind. They extend themselves to help others. They think of new, creative things they can do for customers and coworkers. They may not save pennies in the short term, but they earn big dollars in the long term. More than that, they love people and treat them like guests. 

Generous people and organizations show kindness first, then they do whatever possible to give more than is expected. Zappos helps customers find shoes they don’t have in stock. The famous Danish candy maker Anthon Berg gave a complimentary chocolate to every customer. Dick’s Sporting Goods accepts expired coupons. These are just ordinary courtesies, but we have learned over many years and with lots of experience that ordinary generosity can be extraordinary—and it can earn real loyalty.

Leader Application


The Three Core Loyalty Principles for earning loyalty are empathy, responsibility, and generosity. Empathy enables us to understand another’s feelings, responsibility is about owning that person’s problem, and generosity means we go back and mow the sick man’s lawn for him. You can create a generous team of people through your leadership, and if you hire new team members, you can hire people who are naturally generous.



Generous leaders give the best they can to the team—sensitive input, loving feedback, training, encouragement, little surprises. Generosity doesn’t always mean handing out goodies. A bonus might be nice now and then, but what team members really want is to feel that their ideas and their contributions are valued. Business author Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus and best-selling author, noted: “When an employee feels out of the loop, this can affect morale and confidence a great deal, as much or more so than material generosity can. At the worst, it makes a person feel unimportant.”

That’s why openly sharing information is so important to the team. Generous communication makes team members feel a part of the business and motivates them to help. Andersen also observes that teams are more loyal to a leader “who is generous with information, power, and well-deserved compliments.” If we focus on practicing this third principle of loyalty, it becomes a habit and more natural to us.

Here are a few tips that can help:

Ask yourself, “Am I a generous person?” Decide what kind of person you want to be. Do you have a mindset of abundance or of scarcity? Do you feel comfortable sharing credit for success, or do you take the credit yourself? Are you open to ideas from the team, or does it have to be your idea to be any good? Do you tend to be kind and thoughtful, or callous and abrupt? Do you have a big heart or a pinched, stingy little heart? “Generous leaders view the world through a lens of abundance where much is to be gained rather than lost,” says business thinker Margot Andersen. “This does not mean that they act in a ‘fairy godmother’ manner, granting wishes to all who ask. Rather, they place great value in genuinely connecting with their team.”

Look for “relief” opportunities. Question the entire process your customers go through. The writer Adam Gopnik observed, “People make rational decisions to invest in what they like and what gives them pleasure; the mistake is thinking of the product and not the entire social process.” Where can you make things easier for the customer and the team member? At what points can you simplify the customer experience? Where are you forcing them to wait? What might be annoying or confusing for them? Do you provide relief for the stresses of life, or do you add to them?

A powerful way to earn loyalty is to make it easy for customers to do business with you. “Effort should be reduced throughout the customer life cycle,” says the Corporate Executive Board. “Our research demonstrates that reducing customer effort in pre- and post-sales customer touchpoints has measurable loyalty impact.

Err on the side of generosity. Customer-facing employees make decisions every day about whether to give customers the benefit of the doubt. A customer might ask to return a product when it’s not your policy to accept returns. A customer might dispute a bill.  A customer might snap at you after waiting a long time for assistance. It might not seem fair to you, but if loyalty is what you’re after, you’re not going to demand absolute fairness. A thoughtful gesture is sometimes better than fairness. Enable your employees to do the right thing for customers.

Some customers might appear to be manipulative or mean, but it isn’t very likely. We often make what’s called the “fundamental attribution error,” assuming that people act out of bad motives. When a customer shows impatience or annoyance, it’s not usually because he’s a jerk but because something in the situation moves him to act that way. Just because he’s upset with you doesn’t mean he’s unkind to animals or not loved by his grandchildren. So give him a little extra loving care and look for ways to eliminate the annoyance, whatever it is.



Some people are naturally gifted with generosity. Researcher Helen Fisher has found that generosity is associated with one of the four basic temperament types linked to specific genes and hormonal patterns. She calls generous people “pioneers” because they keep the big picture in mind and are creative and imaginative, leading with surprising insights and ideas for engaging customers. They are also driven to make social attachments.

A good way to recruit people who are naturally generous is to evaluate them in group interviews. At JetBlue Airways, for example, recruiters “watch how applicants interact with one another.” This enables them to “assess communication and people skills to an extent that wouldn’t be possible in a one-on-one setting.” For example, with a group of prospective employees, go around and ask each person to tell a story about something funny or embarrassing that happened to them. Then watch how the other candidates respond. Are they engaged with the speaker, or self-absorbed with thinking about what they are going to say? Evaluate facial expressions and body language to get a sense of their natural generosity to other people.



The key practices of generous people can be reduced to these:

  • Share insights openly.
  • Surprise with unexpected extras.

Because these two practices are fundamental to generosity, we’ll study them in depth in the next two chapters. For now, let’s ask ourselves how we extend generosity to our customers and to our team members. Do we look for opportunities to show kindness? To save them time and trouble? To surprise them with new and exciting experiences?


Keep reading! Download this chapter, plus two more from Part Four: The Principle of Generosity.

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