Home / News / Business Of Life /  When seeking inspirational leaders, look for bosses who are ‘Disagreeable Givers’


The adage goes, people don’t leave organizations, they leave their bosses. We have all had our share of bosses who make us want to leave the building. But, what about bosses who make us want to stay? What does it take to be a great boss or an inspiring team leader?

The best bosses are truly inspirational. But how do you be like them? It’s easier said than done.

One of us faced this predicament mid-career. Our 360-degree feedback told us we were not inspiring any more.

We decided to ask our colleagues—what they had found inspirational about us and what had suddenly gone missing. They were very candid and the lessons stayed with us for life.

First, they said, politely, that success had gone to our head. We were so busy chasing clients and more work that there was no time available to work jointly, problem-solve and engage with each other.

Second, mentoring, something they valued, had come to a standstill. The conversations on how to think about their career, next assignment, whether they should work or study, when they should move on to the next challenge, how they should think about trade-offs and work-life balance in life had gone out of the window.

Third, they felt there was no one to champion their cause any more—either internally or with clients. When they felt pushed around by aggressive colleagues or other bosses, they didn’t know who to turn to. This feedback hurt the most, but it was also telling especially because they also said that, we don’t want just a “nice, pleasant" boss. “Be tough with us and, in fact, be tough with others on our behalf, was the pointed message."

What they were asking is not easy to do.

Adam Grant, American psychologist and author, talks about this in his popular book, Give and Take. His research shows that people who are willing to give of themselves (Givers) more than those who always think of themselves first (Takers) contribute more to organizational success.

Give or take is an intrinsic motivation within people. It is a basic personality trait. But people also impact others around them by the way they engage with them—either they are agreeable or disagreeable.

When we put these two orientations together —Givers or Takers, and Agreeable or Disagreeable, we get four types of professionals: Agreeable Givers, Agreeable Takers, Disagreeable Takers and Disagreeable Givers.

Now, it would seem obvious that being an Agreeable Giver is the best way to be and the best boss to have. And obviously, Disagreeable Takers are the ones you may never want to work with.

But, Grant questions the obvious and makes astute observations that are at the core of our column today.

He asks us to not only be wary of Takers but also of getting taken in or settling for just agreeable-ness.

Agreeable Takers, especially bosses, are among the worst. They may turn out to be turncoats. These are the bosses we call fake and political, who “suck up and kick down", take credit for everything good you do and blame you for everything that goes wrong. Always nice, but never willing to accept feedback that they could be wrong.

Agreeable Givers, on the other hand, will never really be able to push you despite being nice to work with. You might have an easy ride with them, but they are unlikely to have pushed you to discover your strengths or question your assumptions.

Grant argues it is the Disagreeable Givers who are the most effective and who contribute most to the success of others and that of the organization.

These are the bosses who take a genuine interest in your success, who are committed to making you successful and take pride in your success. But, who are also not afraid to tell you as it is: the iron fist in the velvet glove.

The inspiring leader that our colleagues wanted us to be—and all credit to Grant for this label—is the Disagreeable Giver.

Art of Work focuses on extreme choices in the workplace and offers suggestions on how to find the doable middle ground. This is the last article in the series. Pramath Raj Sinha has founded several higher education institutions and Shreyasi Singh is an author who now works in higher education.

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