On the day after Thanksgiving, I went to see Fantastic Beasts, the prequel to the Harry Potter movies, produced and written by J.K. Rowling. If you haven’t seen it yet, I really hope you do. It was a great movie, with the same sense of imagination and suspense of the Harry Potter films but a very positive and light message.

While I have never actually read Harry Potter, I have loved the movies for years. I love how they are so creative, and how they’ve opened my eyes to new things and expanded my imagination in refreshing ways. Having also been to boarding school, Hogwarts brings back many good memories, minus the magic, and I never had so many secret passageways to explore. I’m so intrigued by the idea of being a wizard, that I left the theater last month pretending to be one!

The cool thing about a story like Harry Potter, is we can all relate to it, children and adults alike. It can be a fun experience, but it can also get us thinking more profoundly.


One scene from Fantastic Beasts really stuck with me. Without spoiling the movie or giving too much detail, I’d like to share a line from the movie: “She’s a taker, and you need a giver.”

There are so many kinds of leaders out there. Some motivational, some inspiring, some authentic,  some innovative, some driven, some introverted, and some extroverted. Regardless of the set of skills and talents great leaders possess, they are almost always either a giver or a taker.

If you’ve read any more of my blogs, you probably think I’m going to start writing about how the best leaders are givers. Well, guess what? I’m not.

That’s because I believe the best leaders have found the right balance between giving and taking. Of course, if you have to lean on one side, lean on the giving side. But the goal is to find the balance. It’s about willingly giving and not letting others take advantage of you. It’s about being mindful about how and what we are taking. It’s also about allowing others to enjoy giving by graciously receiving.

If we lean too far to one side of this equation, things can go wrong.


If I walked into your office and you had a basket of fruit and I asked to take an apple, you would likely say yes and be happy to provide me with a healthful snack. But what if I raided your basket when you weren’t there? You would not be able to appreciate the act of giving me the apple, and you might even lose trust for me or others. Taking without asking—taking without appreciation—is a relationship underminer, not a relationship strengthener. It only serves one person (and does so poorly): oneself.

What about those of us who don’t ever ask for help? I know a lot of people who refuse to ask for help because they don’t want to put others out, areafraid of being rejected, or because they prioritize self-reliance over all else. There’s a reason that a recent article in Psychology Today advised readers to ask for favors in order to make friends. Asking for a favor helps to build trust and intimacy. But those who don’t ever take rob their close friends, colleagues and family members of the chance to give.


When you take on a leadership position at a new company it’s easy to do everything so you can demonstrate your ability and build relationships with new people. This can easily lead to a pattern of over-giving or come across as manipulative or superficial, right? Once a pattern is set, it just gets more difficult to break.

I have a friend named Robert, who was recently explaining to me how in his marriage, he tends to do most of the work around the house because he is “type A.” He has also noticed that he is doing the same emotionally by filling in the gap. Bob went on to explain how his over engagement in that way has created a co-dependence in his relationship, and allowed for resentment to build up on both sides. This type of pattern is very common in long-term relationships. While many of the leading experts on the giver-taker divide believe that givers are the happiest type of person, too much of it leads to the wrong set of patterns. And this can go as much for a romantic relationship as it can for a relationship between a manager and an employee, teammates or even parents and children.


A fascinating article in The Wall Street Journal looked into the idea that human brains are hardwired to give. One study looked at the brain’s response when subjects donated to organizations they felt worthy. The results showed that the mid-brain lit up (which also happened when cravings were met, or when money went into their own accounts). The study also found that altruism and social bonding were directly connected in the brain. No surprise there!

That finding is why this topic is so important. Science shows that our brains are hardwired to connect social relationships with the act of giving. Studies show that we build better relationships when we ask for favors, and feel better when we give. Because relationships involve more than one person, it’s our responsibility to allow for others to stimulate their mid-brains, give, and deepen their connections with us. When relationships are strong, those in them are stronger. While we may be born with one proclivity to give or to take, the most successful leaders among us do both—and do both right.


Can we consider then the balance between giving and receiving? And can we identify areas where we may do one, but ought to be doing the other? Here are some ideas to get you started over the next two weeks.

As you receive gifts this holiday season, try to be really mindful about writing a thank you note. How do you express your gratitude for that gift, and for the person who gave it? The New Year is the perfect time to renew a relationship with a life-giving thank you note.

A lot of times, I give gifts without writing a note. And holiday gift tags are so easy to reach for. so When you give during the holidays, think of the real gift as being in how you write a note. Use that opportunity to express affection or whatever you are giving. For example. try to say something really unique about the person you’re giving to that you are really thankful for.

Remember: Giving and receiving out of a grateful heart is a strong and inspiring place of leadership in business or life.

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