Seven deadly sins of leadership: Gluttony

Part four of Nick Humphrey’s seven-part series explores the fourth deadly leadership sin, Gluttony.



What is gluttony?

Insatiability, over-consuming of resources

In the context of a team, gluttony is taking more than you give.

Adam Grant in his TED talk, “Are you a Giver or a Taker”, explains that there are takers, givers and matchers.[1] Grant says givers are somebody who approaches interactions by asking: “What can I do for you?” Givers are the really generous, helpful people. They make useful introductions, offer assistance or share knowledge.

The opposite are takers who are self-serving in most of their interactions. It’s all about: “What can you do for me?” They are self-promoters and rarely share credit. Some takers are simply narcissists, “while others are just givers who got burned one too many times”.[2] It would be a mistake to think that takers are ruthless or cut-throat. They are usually cautious and self-protective.[3]

The third style is called “matching.” If you’re a matcher, you keep score of the give and take: “If you do something for me, I’ll do something for you”. This is “tit for tat”, based on an exchange of equal favours. Grant found that most people are matchers.

Why is gluttony bad for performance?

In terms of productivity, Grant’s research had some surprising results. The worst performers were actually givers – they were so busy doing everyone else’s work they didn’t get around to doing their own.

So who then were the best performers? Matchers or takers? Neither, it was givers – they were not only the worst performers but also were the best performers. For example, if you looked at a group of salespeople, the very top performers as measured by sales were givers. Takers might start off well but usually slide into the middle of the pack, as matchers keep them in check.

A team led by Nathan Podsakoff, from the University of Arizona, reviewed 38 studies on organizational behaviour. The studies covered more than 3,500 businesses across a range of industries. They found a strong link between employee “giving” and important business objectives, including productivity, profitability, customer satisfaction, and lower staff turnover rates.[4] Givers drive collaboration and better problem solving, appealing to not only other employees but also suppliers and clients. The more often people are helping each other, sharing their knowledge and mentoring one another, the better firms do on every conceivable metric.[5]

What are some strategies for managing givers and takers?



Some tips on how to build a culture where givers can succeed:

Protect your givers from burn-out: A serious risk is that your givers burn-out. They find it hard to juggle their competing demands, often doing their own work out of hours, late at night and over weekends, because they are constantly assisting others on their tasks. As a leader, encourage them to set boundaries, perhaps limiting their availability to several slots a week to help others in the team with their projects. Alternatively, they could focus on smaller more valuable “five-minute” favours like making a useful introduction to a potential customer or supplier.

Make help-seeking the norm: It will also be important to build a culture where “help-seeking” is encouraged. The stigma of asking for assistance needs to be demolished and asking for help should be encouraged as the new norm. The data supports the idea that encouraging giving behaviours simply starts with a request.[6] The problem is people don’t want to seem incompetent or a burden on others.

Weed out the takers: It will be important to think carefully about who you accept into your team. Grant argues:

“[T]he negative impact of a taker on a culture is usually double to triple the positive impact of a giver. Think about it this way: one bad apple can spoil a barrel, but one good egg just does not make a dozen. … Let even one taker into a team, and you will see that the givers will stop helping. They’ll say, ‘I’m surrounded by a bunch of snakes and sharks. Why should I contribute?’ Whereas if you let one giver into a team, you don’t get an explosion of generosity. More often, people are like, ‘Great! That person can do all our work’ …”[7]

This is less about hiring and retaining givers, its much more critical to ruthlessly purge the takers. Once you have done this, you will be left with:

  • givers, who are free to be generous without fear of being taken advantage of takers; and

  • of course the matchers, who no longer have to spend time and effort to police the takers and will follow the new norm.


About the author

Nick Humphrey is the managing partner of Hamilton Locke. He is the Chairman of the Australian Growth Company Awards and author of a number of best-selling books on business and leadership. His latest book is Maverick Executive: strategies for Driving Clarity, Effectiveness and Focus, published by Wolters Kluwer.


1. Adam Grant, “Are you a giver or a taker?” November 2016, TED Talk,

2. Grant, TED

3. Maria Popova, “Adam Grant Give and Take”, Brain Pickings,

4. Adam Grant, “In the Company of Givers and Takers”, April 2013, Harvard Business Review

5. Grant, TED

6. Grant, TED

Grant, TED