Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood . . . Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. – Daniel Burnham, American architect (1846-1912)

All work has inherent value.

Because work has value apart from the collective value of the whole project, both in quality (excellent and not so excellent) and in quantity (a lot and a little bit), what we do with that value is an important test for each of us.

The challenge—and opportunity—is to offer our work as a gift, and to value others’ work as a gift (even if they wouldn’t see it that way):

  • Do the people who work with/for me know I value the work they offer?
  • Do I see my work only in a transactional way, based on the number of dollars, or the “prestige credits” it gets me?
  • Or, do I offer my work to others, and to the world at large, with a conviction that it has inherent value, whether or not others acknowledge that value?

Some people just get this. Seth Godin describes these kinds of people as a “linchpins,” who “work without a map, solve interesting problems, lead, connect and create an impact.”

They know that their work stands on its own, independent of another’s opinion of it, and its value goes way beyond what a fickle economy would say (through the salary and benefits package). Rather, the generous leader/worker sees her sweat, creativity, intelligence, skill, experience, passion, opportunity, and/or emotional effort as the true indicators of its value.

Here is a challenging notion: Work has value even apart from the motive and attitude of the worker. Attitude, initiative, quality—these factors influence work’s long-term value, but they don’t have the power to eclipse or cancel out its contribution to the world.

I’ve had some crappy bosses (and probably been one myself at times). It’s a good thing this hasn’t canceled the value of my work or the work of my boss or colleague.

This should change the way I see the people around me: the guy fixing my car, the vendor on the other side of the contract who is (apparently) charging me more than I prefer, the boss whose emotional outbursts are clues about his own internal struggle, the DMV person helping me swap out my Colorado driver’s license for a California one (along with the additional taxes and fees, but that’s another blog), the cashier at the local grocery store who, from the look on her face, clearly doesn’t think her work is of much value or consequence.

I think it’s a cool notion that we all have the opportunity to offer our work as a gift, knowing it has inherent value. And, importantly, to RECEIVE others’ work as a gift, whether they consider it a gift or not.

This assumes a very noble and high view of work, a view that not everyone shares. In fact, yesterday I read a crazy quote on a Chipotle to-go paper bag:

“Hope that, in future, all is well, and everyone eats free, no one must work, all just sit around feeling love for one another.” (George Saunders)


Wow. The assumption behind that quote is stunning. Work is bad. To be avoided. It certainly doesn’t afford dignity and value to the notion of work.

What if a big part of the way we love happens through work, and how we get along happens through what we offer to one another through the work we do.

I am interested in the part of work that goes beyond these external value systems. I am interested in that ineffable part of work that a person offers as the expression of his passion, her creative effort, problem-solving skills, and determination to bring value beyond the superficial, two-dimensional work product.

Instead, these inspiring people see work as three, even four-dimensional, as both a very private and very public matter. They see their work as an expression of the way they see the world, others, and themselves. It’s core values, culture, mission, vision, and strategy all wrapped up in one elegant package—a person offering their work to the world as A GIFT.

They take full ownership and responsibility of the work they offer. It makes them fearless and ultimately impervious to criticism. They learn from it, instead of it chipping away at their confidence in what they offer.

I can build a great team with generous people. I can be a great team member by being a generous person.

How can you move toward becoming a generous leader/influencer? Who can you talk to today about this idea of generous leadership?

Some generous leaders/influencers I have known:

Paul has served leaders around the world for more than 50 years. But its his genuine enthusiasm for the day-to-day realities of young leaders that fuels his passion. Most people miss this. They see a man who flies all around the world speaking at leadership retreats, coaching high level leaders…but it’s the look in his eyes when he is talking about the real-life struggles of his friends and colleagues that is the true gift of his work.

Ashley is a stubborn believer that better is always possible. So, whether she is sending out an email campaign, organizing a corporate annual event, or weighing in on the fissure she sees in the corporate culture, she is all in.

Thomas compares himself to the friends he’s known for over 30 years, trying to figure out where his work fits in compared to the more traditional routes they took. But he misses what I see: the creative and circuitous route he has taken has been driven by a love for a group of people from the Middle East and for the others who have given their lives to serve. That’s a powerful notion: that a whole work life trajectory has been driven by love for others.

Stephanie’s infectious smile and energy at a 6-foot table, on a break where IT folks are running past her to restrooms and coffee bars, prevails. By the end of the day, people have noticed her. When Stephanie catches your eye, you are curious about what she is so excited about.

Aaron is a unapologetic software sales executive who drives toward profit like the proverbial “bull dog on a pork chop.” However, he also applies that same determination to not “sell out” to the superficiality of a merely successful career. Instead, he writes a blog ( where he fearlessly and candidly articulates a pursuit of the deeper life, one of passion, significance, and authenticity.

…and the stories of hundreds of other generous leaders/influencers.


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©Marc Fey, 2022

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