Prestige, an important aspect of leadership, is fundamental to status attainment in organizational work teams. Yet, what is meant by prestige is not limited to how much unique knowledge or task-relevant expertise one has, but it also encompasses the development of certain social skills that enhance one’s apparent value to the work team. Thus, along with excelling in technical procedures relating to a work team’s core business, status-seekers should also demonstrate (voluntary) pro-social behavior aimed at benefitting their fellow team members.
Acting in a generous manner is one way to achieve this. One’s generosity as manifested by his or her willingness to share work-related materials with others, or to give time and effort for those who need assistance to perform their work may be highly appreciated in organizational settings. This sensitivity about the welfare of others, in this case, not only signals that the generous person is considerate about his or her colleagues´ needs, listens to their concerns, and invests selflessly in their personal-development, but it also reinforces his or her superiority in terms of knowledge, experience, and skills. Moreover, it helps the work team to perform better, increasing the value of the generous team member even more in the eyes of the fellow team members. Research has confirmed this by showing that status-seekers in university cohorts were indeed accorded with higher status when they provided more work-related assistance to their fellow team members, but received help from fewer others (e.g., Flynn, Reagans, Amanatullah, & Ames, 2006). By receiving less help than they gave, status-seekers displayed tactical behavior that elicits status; they appeared more generous and more collective-oriented in the eyes of their fellow team members.
Striving for status is a universal motive, but just like beauty, status is also in the eyes of the beholder. Therefore, it is natural that the beholders wish to find merit in according someone status. Generosity creates a win-win solution in this status-seeking and status-giving process; sharing one’s superior knowledge or expertise with others convinces the team members that this person deserves a higher rank in the team’s status hierarchy, whereby doing so also contributes to the self-development of individual team members and the success of the team as a whole.
This article is based on the literature and findings from the following sources:
Anderson, C., & Kilduff, G. J. (2009). The pursuit of status in social groups. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 295-298.
Flynn, F. J., Reagans, R. E., Amanatullah, E. T., & Ames, D. R. (2006). Helping one’s way to the top: Self-monitors achieve status by helping others and knowing who helps whom. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(6), 1123-1137.