Why Generosity Is the Essential Attribute of Leadership

May 21, 2020

by John Eades

The business world lost Jack Welch on March 1st, 2020. He was a great businessman and professional who drastically evolved as a leader during his 84 years. Luckily he left behind some great leadership and management lessons.

During Welch’s 20 year tenure at GE, he was able to increase the company’s value by 4,000 percent, growing its market value from $12 billion to $410 billion. You could make an argument that this impact was one of the greatest achievements in the history of CEOs.

Here is where it gets interesting. Welch was considered by most to be a ruthless and a results-driven leader. So much so, he was nicknamed “Neutron Jack” because of his aggressive firing policy in the mid ’80s (known as the “vitality curve”).

While the majority of organizations no longer use the “vitality curve” method, organizational leaders have learned from and implemented strategies from Welch’s experience. A couple of years ago, I learned a leadership lesson from “Neutron Jack” that I never thought I would.

Tim Ferriss interviewed Frank Blake the Former CEO and Chairman of Home Depot (a great leader in his own right) and former direct report at GE to Jack Welch. During the interview, Blake recalled a story in which he asked Welch, “Of all of the attributes of leadership, if you had to weigh them all and pick one, what is the single most important attribute of leadership?” 

“The single most important attribute of leadership is generosity.”

Jack Welch

What is generosity?

Most people think of generosity in terms of money but it’s defined differently. Webster defines it as the quality of being kind, understanding and not selfish; the willingness to give valuable things to others. This is how Welch was using the term to describe how important it is for leaders to be fueled by the success of others.

If you want to be a more generous leader as Welch suggests, here are a few ideas:

1. Model servant leadership.

Through all the interviews I have done on the “Follow My Lead” podcast and working with companies of all sizes to help improve the leadership skills of their people, I have come to define leadership in Building the Best this way:

Someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to ELEVATE OTHERS over an extended period of time.

Now it’s one thing to know this definition, it’s completely different to model it and live it out for your people every single day. Instead of waking up thinking about yourself, do your very best to think about your team.

2. Give of your time, not money.

One of my favorite quotes ever is from John Crudele about parenting, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.” If you want to be a more generous leader, start with giving more of your time. There is absolutely nothing you can do to replace the time you spend transferring knowledge and getting to know people one-on-one. By the time you spend with people, you might uncover money is needed, but let that be the last resort.

3. Seek out opportunities to fuel the success of others.

I believe with all my heart, leaders don’t create followers but they create more leaders. So instead of hoarding the best talent on your team, seek out opportunities to help them advance in their career through new tasks, roles, or job functions.

This means you will lose talented people to promotions or new opportunities. While it might hurt you in the short term, not only is it the right thing to do for someone else it will also attract more talented people to join you on the journey.

Those leaders who aren’t doing these three things are being the opposite of a generous and will find themselves as part of the reason their team never reaches its full potential.  

How do you live out the attribute of generosity in your leadership approach?


John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company that exists to turn managers into leaders and create healthier places to work. He is currently booking events and speaking engagements for 2020. John was named one of LinkedIn’s 2017 Top Voices in Management & Workplace and was awarded the 2017 Readership Award by Training Industry.com. John is also the host of the “Follow My Lead” Podcast, a show that transfers stories and best practices from today’s leaders to the leaders of tomorrow. You follow him on Instagram @johngeades.