Pay it Forward

Pay it forward. The phrase alone makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, doesn’t it? We love it when the car in front of us at the Starbucks drive through “pays it forward” by paying for our cup of coffee, and we, in turn, pay it forward by buying a cup for the car behind us.

And that is nice. It really is. I’ve been the beneficiary of a free cup of coffee from a stranger, and I’ve purchase coffee for the stranger behind me.

But in leadership, pay it forward goes well beyond a cup of joe, doesn’t it? Of course it does. At least I think it does. But, what does pay it forward really mean?

Does it mean that we get publically recognized for our good deed?

Does it mean that we are guaranteed something good will happen to us in return?

Does it mean that there is no pain in the giving, the sharing, or the sacrificing?

Does it mean that the people we pay it forward to will remember what we did for them when we’re the ones in need of a hand?

No, it really doesn’t mean any of those things. Paying it forward isn’t about creating good karma or doing someone a favor so they’ll “owe us one” or giving abundantly of our time or ourselves simply because it is convenient or and we don’t have anything better to do with our money or energy. Paying it forward isn’t about whether someone or something is worthy of our time or attention or whatever we’re giving up in the process.

Paying it forward is about giving generously, without expectation, without fine print, without a carrot dangling above the “give.” As leaders, we pay it forward because we want to help people grow, to see them succeed. It’s about giving up what’s most convenient for us, but with a mindset that is rooted in the joy of the giving rather than the burden of the sacrifice.

Paying it forward has nothing to do with what’s best for us, and everything to do with what’s best for the people around us.

How are you paying it forward to your colleagues, your teammates, and your customers?

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