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Abundance Theory in the Workplace

He who wishes to secure the good of others has already secured his own.
— Confucius

A few years back, I had made the decision to shift careers from school leadership to that of executive coach and consultant. To that end, I enrolled in a doctoral program studying human and organizational psychology. In my first course, I was told to interview someone who was in the same field that I sought to pursue and ask that person a series of questions relating to their career path.

After doing some research, I found two successful women that fit the bill. While both were pleasant to speak with and generous with their time, one in particular, a coach and trainer, shared some things that really made an impression on me. She said that she had benefitted from others’ expertise when she had gotten started and was always looking for ways to “pay it forward” to other aspiring professionals. The fact that I was planning to move to her general area and serve similar clients did not deter her from giving freely of her advice. She even met me on another occasion over lunch to talk further about how to help me transition and grow my business.

This woman’s behavior not only helped me to get started but she also inspired me to rethink a lifelong script that had become part of my inner thinking and attitude. I refer specifically to Scarcity Theory.

Scarcity Theory, a term coined by Stephen Covey, suggests that everything in life has its limit. Whether that thing is a spot on the team roster, a scholarship, a job, customers, funding, promotions, or something else, we need to hoard as much as possible for ourselves because there is simply not enough to go around. This same theory also says that there are limited ways to achieve success, and that anyone who wishes to make it must follow the same path and prescription that others have done previously. 

In contrast, this coach, through her word and deed, demonstrated to me a living illustration of what Covey labeled “Abundance Theory” (AT.) Abundance Theory is a mindset that looks at each glass as half full (if not fuller) and sees the world as offering endless opportunity. To the abundance theorist, there will always be room on the bench for one more player, and that the new guy will not detract from their ability to earn a livelihood or achieve other professional or personal goals. The world offers plenty; our job is to know how to go out and find it, and then share some of it with others. 

Moreover, to the abundance practitioner the more is often the merrier. Consider coaching for example. Not only does the presence of more coaches not detract from individual coaches’ underlying ability to engage and support sufficient clients, but it also generate added awareness about the importance of coaching as a service and lend credibility to the field by increasing the number of qualified practitioners. In addition, the more minds that are applied to solving issues and creating solutions, the better for everyone. If one coach develops tools that help clients, they can share their successes with others and raise the collective coaching standard for all.

The benefits of abundance thinking extend to leaders as well. Teams and organizations that think “we first” tend to outperform their competition. They are less consumed with internal territorialism and personal recognition and focus instead on finding solutions and improving performance. Abundance thinkers understand that with the Victory – measured by their ability to work together and support each other – come the spoils.

Some leaders may find Abundance Theory to be a tough sell. We noted above that most folks have been taught at one point or another that there are finite limits to many of the things that they desire. Leaders, for their part, may have also adopted a scarcity mindset as they moved along their educational and professional pathways. How can they now turn around and preach abundance? The following strategies may help:

  1. Describe the merits – For many, abundance thinking is foreign. In order for leaders to rewrite their people’s thinking, they must list the many benefits of Abundance Theory, such as the ones listed above.
  2. Recognize and reward those who are inclusive – Leaders should note examples of abundance thinking and action in the workplace and shine attention on it. If they can reinforce it with some form of reward, all the better.
  3. Create opportunities for idea sharing – Model AT by giving people a chance to provide input and wrap their heads around issues. Emphasize how good ideas from one will benefit the entire group and possibly more.
  4. Remind yourself that there is more than enough – Leaders who are not scripted in AT need to continually remind themselves of it and its implications. When considering options and making decisions, place a reminder squarely in front of you to ensure that you are being mindful of it when it matters most.
  5. Make it a workplace competency – As with other job-related qualifications, leaders should look for evidence of AT when hiring new personnel. Certainly, it would be a good quality for team leaders to possess.
  6. Get out of the rat race - Spend less time just doing and more time in reflection. This will offer you a deeper perspective and slow things down a bit. The end result will typically be some bigger picture thinking.
  7. Give more of what you want – One of the best ways to increase your abundance is to give. People appreciate generosity and often find ways to give back.

This post first appeared in SmartBlogs on Leadership.

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