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Psychological Profiles of the Dream Team: The Giver


When you run a business, you tend to learn a lot about people.

Different things make different people tick—and if you’ve got a really great staff, it’s probably made up of a lot of different kinds of people. Over time, I’ve learned to identify some of the distinct psychological profiles of members of my staff, and have picked up on their key characteristics, what drives them and what challenges they face.

I thought I’d share these insights in a series of posts so that you, too, can not only understand your employees better, but can build your own workplace “Dream Team” lineup: a staff of well-balanced personalities, placed in the roles they’re best suited for. In this post, I’ll talk about the psychological profile of the “Giver.”

This series took a fair bit of work. Our Managing Editor, Holly Regan, did a lot of the research and heavy lifting to get these published, while Austin-area psychiatrist Dr. James Maynard contributed his clinical expertise to helping us better understand our team. A big thank-you to both of them.

What Makes Them Tick?

As the name implies, Givers like to give to other people. At home, this may mean being an attentive spouse, a thoughtful parent or a helpful roommate, always putting others’ needs ahead of their own. At work, they’re the same way: Their overarching mission is to give to the company, and they put the company and their co-workers ahead of themselves. They work hard, and go above and beyond.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean that they can perform every role in the company. Givers are great lieutenants, but they tend not to want to lead the cavalry. They do best when they’re taking their marching orders from someone else and representing that person or organization. They may be good leaders, but they typically don’t want to be the boss.

It’s important to note, however, that being a Giver is independent of maturity. To be fully mature, Givers must have learned to develop their “people skills”—meaning the ability to handle constructive criticism, empathize and see the other person’s point of view with the intention of solving a problem.

A less mature Giver may struggle with communicating effectively; their desire not to rock the boat can result in them not speaking up when they’re upset or when they need something. A more mature Giver will have learned to overcome some of these challenges with communication and independence.

What Qualities Do Givers Have?

Here’s a quick breakdown of how most Givers rank for certain key qualities:

Rating (out of 5 stars)

Who Are Some Famous Givers?

Here are some famous Givers throughout history, grouped by level of maturity:

More Mature
Less Mature

Mother Teresa
Saint Jude Thaddeus

Nelson Mandela
Joan of Arc

Melinda Gates
Greg Mortenson

Again, a mature Giver has more refined people skills, has developed a degree of independence and goes above and beyond to help the company, the family or the cause. Less mature Givers struggle with communication and independence, and ultimately lose themselves in the pursuit of serving others.

Mother Teresa is the Giver poster child: she had the people skills and streak of independence necessary to found her own religious congregation, while in greater service of the Roman Catholic Church. Saint Jude is another Christian and Catholic icon; however, as the patron saint of lost causes, he kept giving in the face of hopelessness and lost his life.

Mandela sacrificed 27 years in prison for the South African anti-apartheid movement, and succeeded in becoming the country’s first black president; Joan of Arc, on the other hand, fought for French independence, but died a martyr long before it was won.

Gates is a skilled communicator who has spearheaded many successful charitable campaigns for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; while Mortenson has also founded charities, he has been accused of financial misdeeds and was court-ordered to repay $1 million in contributions.

What Makes Them Great?

Givers possess some powerful characteristics that make them great employees:

  • They’re loyal. There tends to be lower turnover among Givers: their investment in a company is personal, so they often don’t want to leave. They’re not focused on looking for the next best thing—they’re focused on making this thing the best it can be. They want to make the right decisions at every turn for the company, not just for their own career.
  • They give it their all. Givers are the type of people you’ll often find coming in early and staying late. They have an innate motivation to give 110 percent and perform to the very best of their abilities, because they genuinely want to help the company and their co-workers.
  • They’re team players. Since Givers put others first, they make great team members. They’re not looking to get ahead for themselves; they’re looking to advance the company and the team as a whole. Whether they’re in a leadership role or not, they want to work with others to help the organization achieve its goals.
  • They play by the rules. Givers tend to be strict rule-followers: They believe in the company’s regulations and their importance, so they’re very by-the-book. Their personal investment in the company means that if they do break the rules, they’re extremely disappointed in themselves. Ensuring your company’s rules are fair is always crucial, and when you have Givers on staff, this becomes even more important.

What Challenges Do They Face?

Just as givers have characteristics that make them great, their personality traits also lend them some unique challenges:

  • Confrontation. Givers tend not to like confrontation; even if they disagree with someone, it’s rare that they’ll go to battle over it, as this type of interaction is very demoralizing for them. However, this timorousness can lead to Givers’ valid concerns going unheard, or to problematic behavior on the part of other employees going unaddressed. It may also manifest itself as passive-aggressiveness in less mature Givers.
  • Tunnel vision. Givers in management positions lead by example—but they may not inherently understand what motivates most people, because it’s not what motivates them. They may work very long hours and not expect much in return, but the people who report to them will likely not feel the same. Thus, Givers can sometimes overlook what the team needs—and their teams may start to lose members several years in, if too much is being expected out of them.
  • Burnout. Everyone has a breaking point: Because they put the company and their co-workers first, Givers can take on so much extra work that they burn out. Since they also tend to suffer silently, keeping their frustrations private, you’ll have to look out for your Givers and ensure they aren’t overworking themselves.

How Do Givers Perform in Key Roles?

Here’s a quick look at which roles Givers are most, and least, suited for:

What They’re Good At
What They’re Not So Good At
Marketing Strategy
Software Development
Executive Support
Customer Service

Which Roles Are Best for Them?

The characteristics shared by Givers make them well-suited for certain workplace roles, including:

  • Centralized or “headquarters” roles. Givers are energized and fulfilled by the interactions they have with the company they serve and the co-workers they serve alongside. This means that, in many cases, they’re not the remote office type. They do their best work in-person at company headquarters, where they can physically be part of the team.
  • “Producer” roles. Givers tend to do well in roles where they’re producing something tangible that benefits the company: for example, in development, operations or marketing. Whether it’s a piece of marketing content or a complete website, they are fulfilled by the material fruits of their labor.
  • Customer service. In a customer service role, givers can really thrive, because they are taking care of people directly—benefiting both the customer and the company in one fell swoop. They strive to solve problems diplomatically and to leave everyone satisfied at the end of an interaction.

Which Roles Should They Avoid?

While Givers excel in certain positions, they aren’t a good fit for every role. Some of these include:

  • Sales. In most cases, Givers are too focused on the needs of others to excel in sales roles. They tend not to have the twinge of ego or the competitive edge that a good salesperson needs to be really successful.
  • Customer service roles involving a high level of customer dissatisfaction. While Givers can be some of your best customer service employees, they may not do well if they have to deal with a high frequency of dissatisfied customers (e.g., they should probably not man the complaint line). Givers can become especially disheartened by customers who are angry or belligerent: if they do have to work with these customers, you’ll need to have a solid escalation process in place.
  • C-suite executive roles. While Givers can ascend high in your organization, you should think carefully about whether they would be a good fit for a C-suite executive position: e.g., CEO or COO. A small, healthy dose of narcissism is typically correlated with the ambitious nature of those who reach the level of CEO—which Givers tend not to have. Typically, they will pair up with someone who does aspire to that level, and serve as the right-hand man; they tend to prefer this to striking out on their own.

How Do You Identify a Giver in an Interview?

During the interview process, there are certain approaches you can take to identify whether or not a candidate is a Giver:

  • Start the interview in a warm, relaxed manner. If you’re interviewing a salesperson, the candidate will tend to be very up-front and take control of the interview. If you’re interviewing a Giver, however, they won’t have this sort of drive—so you should start the interview in a warm, relaxed manner that makes the candidate feel comfortable about opening up to you.
  • Use behavioral interviewing techniques. To determine whether a candidate is a Giver, ask for examples of key characteristics in his or her professional life. Sample questions include: “Tell me about a time where you stayed late or worked extra hours to get something done for the company,” or “tell me about a time you went above and beyond for your employer.” You can also seek examples in their personal life, such as taking care of a sibling or grandparent or asking how their friends would describe them.
  • Ask about past conflicts, and gauge the candidate’s maturity. Have candidates provide examples of how they handled workplace conflict or situations where they needed to communicate with their manager about an issue. You can gauge whether they’re conflict-averse by their responses. Keep in mind that mature Givers will have learned to go against their nature and speak up about potential problems, because they know it’s in everyone’s best interest.
  • Go in-depth with references. If you’ve been given strong references, try to go in-depth with them to identify whether giving comes naturally to the candidate. Ask for detailed examples of the candidate going the extra mile for the company, being altruistic towards co-workers or working long hours to get a project done.

What Should You Do As an Employer?

After you’ve hired Givers onto your staff, there are certain things you’ll need to do as an employer to ensure that the team runs smoothly:

  • Be careful with feedback. Givers thrive so much on doing the right thing that criticism can be very damaging to them. Be careful when providing feedback: ensure that any criticism you have is constructive, and try to balance it with positive feedback, too. A more mature Giver will be better able to have honest conversations and take feedback, even if it isn’t positive—so gauge their maturity independent of their personality type when speaking to them.
  • Take care of them. Because they’re unlikely to put themselves first, you, as an employer, need to look out for your Givers. Keep in mind their career progression, compensation and job satisfaction; they won’t be inclined to speak up about these things, even if they are displeased. And keep in mind that there’s a lot of value in doing things for your Givers, as they tend to be very appreciative when you do.
  • Encourage open dialogue. Givers tend to keep their frustrations and struggles to themselves—so encourage open dialogue. Ask if there is anything they are frustrated with in the workplace or if they have any suggestions for improvement: they’ll be more inclined to speak up if they can put a positive spin on their criticism or complaints. And again, the more mature they are, the easier this will come to them.

Givers can be a very valuable addition to your staff—just make sure you look out for them, and they’ll be loyal to you in return. Of course, you can’t staff your office entirely with Givers; a mix of other personality types is needed to complement them and to balance out your Dream Team. In my next post, I’ll discuss another distinct psychological profile: the Champ (and the Chip).

Holly Regan and Dr. James Maynard contributed to this article.

Image by Holly Regan.

MotherTeresa 094” created by Turelio used under CC-BY-SA-2.0-de / cropped and resized.
905” created by Monastery Icons used under CC-BY / cropped and resized.
Nelson Mandela-2008 (edit)” created by South Africa The Good News / used under CC-BY / cropped and resized.
France, Auvergne, Moulins-sur-Allier (03) : Basilique-cathédrale Notre-Dame de l’Annonciation, XVe. : Jeanne d’Arc” created by (vincent desjardins) used under CC-BY / cropped and resized.
_” created by Aaron Fulkerson used under CC-BY / cropped and resized.
DJY_5731” created by Derek Yu used under CC-BY / cropped and resized.

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About the Author

Don started Software Advice in 2005 after a ten-year career in the software industry. Previously he held positions as an ERP analyst at an investment firm and as a corporate development executive at a pioneering CRM software company. Don lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Lauren, daughter Hudson, son Stone and Bernese mountain dog Stinson.

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