Giver or Taker?

Gerwig 2015-02-13

“All models are wrong, some are useful.” The first time I heard this saying, I didn’t fully grasp its significance. But in the years since, it has become a favorite. Dr. W. Edwards Deming was giving a live seminar to leaders at the company for whom I worked. He was in his 90s at the time and was truly a legend. I remember writing down nearly every word he said in my journal (actually a pad of engineering paper).

Later I learned that Dr. Deming was quoting a famous statistician, George Box (of Box and Whiskers fame). Regardless of the saying’s true origin, both gentlemen were brilliant and a major impact on a generation of statisticians, engineers, and everyone linked with continuous improvement, quality management, lean, six sigma, and statistical process control. I still have an autographed copy of Deming’s Out of the Crisis and a copy (un-autographed) of a statistics text written by George Box.

Today’s article reminded me that all models are wrong and some are useful. I’m going to oversimplify a categorization of people using a model that isn’t 100% accurate, all the time, in all circumstances, but I believe you’ll find that it is useful.

There are two types of people in the world: Givers and Takers. Some might argue there’s a third category, Matchers. Givers give. Takers take. Matchers give and take as they give and take in turn. I’m going to focus only on Givers and Takers. I would argue that Matchers are really a subcategory of Takers. They aren’t true Givers as there’s always a string attached.

These observations are made based upon study and observation of thousands of people from every global geography, socio-economic status, race, gender, and ethnicity. Good or bad, these are my observations. You have your own. And I’d love for you to share them in the comments at the end of the article.


  1. Give credit where credit is due. It doesn’t matter who the other person is, what organization they work for, what status they have or what skin color they have, the Giver gives them credit and acknowledges their contribution, value, or achievement.
  2. Say and do the right thing even if there’s a personal cost to them. Givers stand up for the truth and aren’t swayed by what’s politically correct. They say and do the right thing because it’s right even if it hurts them in some way.
  3. Help and serve others without thought of repayment. This is at the heart of what separates Givers from Takers. They don’t expect or demand a return. If a genuine repayment is made, Givers graciously accept the “gift” as to do otherwise would be rude. But they never expect repayment in kind for their service or help.
  4. Make themselves available. They have time for others. They spend their own money and use their own resources to help others.
  5. Help and serve others regardless of the other’s socio-economic status, rank, position, power, etc. Givers serve the lowly and the mighty alike. In many cases, it’s actually harder for people to serve the mighty, the wealthy and the powerful. Yet this group of people need the service of Givers as much, if not more, than the lowly. Despite outward appearances, the mighty are perhaps the most needy group that exists. They’re certainly the loneliest.
  6. Deliver results and build legacies by developing others and helping them achieve their dreams. The impact of Givers is multiplied through others. Givers develop Givers.
  7. Attract people. You’ve heard it said that a leader is someone with followers. I’d add “willing” followers. Givers attract willing followers. Givers are the true leaders of the world. Anything else is a poor imitation.


  1. Are bullies. Takers were the bullies in the school yard and they’re bullies today. They may be feared, but they’re not liked. And they certainly don’t attract healthy followers.
  2. Weigh out or calculate the ROI of every relationship and interpersonal interaction. If there’s something in it for them, they’ll play. Otherwise, they’ll turn their back. Takers view others as a means to their ends.
  3. Are self-focused. Takers overuse words and terms like, “I, me, my, my team, what’s in it for me.” They are concerned primarily about themselves.
  4. Take credit for the work of others. If a Taker contributes 1% to the success of the project, they claim 100% of the project’s success and benefit. Takers don’t give credit to others unless it’s given in a manipulative manner (with the expectation of a future return that yields a positive return on the insincere accolade given).
  5. Repel others. Takers don’t attract healthy, positive followers. Aside from those with severe dysfunctions, people avoid Takers because they don’t want to be abused, used or unappreciated.
  6. Hold people back. Takers are afraid to promote others or let them go. This is especially true if they add value. The Taker suppresses promotional opportunities for those in their organization because those performers help the Taker look good. And be sure that the Taker will take the credit due others.
  7. Are miserly with compensation, rewards, kudos, awards, “attaboys” and positive reinforcement in general. Takers are selfish and don’t want to share with others whether it’s money, stock, recognition or praise.

What’s your observation about Givers and Takers? Do you see these two types of people? Is it a 50/50 split or does one group dominate?

In the end, even if surrounded by Takers, I ask that you be a Giver. Make a positive difference in the lives of others. Don’t expect a return. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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