Unwrapping corporate gifts

There is an grouplegacyold saying: a person’s gift makes room for them and brings them before great people.

It is from Solomon, history’s wealthiest king. He knew business inside out, what made people tick and was as straight as they come.

But what does it mean?

In today’s context it means the commercial cut and thrust of market growth and business building needs to get a little touchy-feely from time to time.

It also means the benefits can outweigh the effort. In a corporate context giving gifts is a serious business. And there is a chasm between presenting a gift to ingratiate yourself with someone and showing sincere respect for someone and through which to establish a relationship to benefit both of you.

Most organisations have guidelines for corporate gifts and it’s important that you are familiar with them. Unless you are careful, and if your motivation is out of step, the gift can be interpreted at worst as an attempt to leverage the relationship in an inappropriate way or at best as an expression of gratitude for the relationship.

A word of warning: never give gifts if you are tendering for work or engaged in some other competitive process. This can result in your company being excluded, risk you and your company’s reputation and open the possibility of legal action.

Our western business culture is not characterised as giving gifts, however, if done well and handled sensitively the practice can develop your corporate relationships and potentially open new opportunities.

Do your homework

CEOs should take time to research the cultural and personal context of the receiver and select a gift that suits both. Below are a few guidelines for selecting and presenting a gift.

  1.  Check your motivation. Buying a gift to buy someone’s favour is transparent and will be quickly exposed.
  2. Do it yourself. As a CEO you are generally time poor. But asking your PA or someone else in your team to arrange the gift will not have the same impact. You need to have a connection with the item because at the end of the day, the gift is from you.
  3. Keep it nominal and appropriate. A gift must be suitable to the context. That’s where your research is vital. You do not want to embarrass the other person (or yourself) by offering a gift that suggests the receiver now has an obligation to you. Never give cash.
  4. Presenting the gift. Give value to the gift (beyond its price tag) by passing it to the recipient in a way that shows the other person also has value. This is an honouring moment and one that will help cement the relationship you are seeking to build.
  5. Know something about the gift. Being able to talk about the gift, pointing out its unique features shows even more thoughtfulness and engages the recipient personally and adds to the relationship you are building.
  6. And now you wait. The fruit of your gift may take time to ripen. Don’t expect a quick upturn in your sales volumes or new markets to open immediately. These things take time.

Your gift does not always have to involve a purchased item. It could be a simple, handwritten note of thanks for the invitation to a networking event, dinner or conference or a hard to get face-to-face meeting. Keep the note simple and sincere. Write it yourself on company letterhead or compliments slip. The personally written note says more about how you valued the opportunity and the person who provided it. It’s very old school and that’s why it works.

Flip it

Finally, giving gifts means you are likely to receive them. Be a good receiver. If you aren’t already, learn to be so. Be delighted and thankful. Take time to unwrap and inspect the gift and ask questions about it. And … if you  already have one of whatever it is, don’t say so. If the duplicate is on display, say that you have someone in mind who had always admired it and you can now pass it on and keep the new one.


Second chair isn’t second fiddle

Bartlet and Ag SecThere is a scene in The West Wing when the President is preparing to deliver his State of the Union address.

Traditionally, one Cabinet member must remain in the Oval Office during the speech in case something catastrophic happens and the President (or the rest of Cabinet) doesn’t return.

In an intensely private moment, the President reassures the nervous young Agriculture Secretary about what his first decision should be: to appoint a chief of staff; his second chair.

“Do you have a best friend?”


“Is he smarter than you?”


“Would you trust him with your life?”


“That’s your chief of staff.”

Greg Smith’s insightful blog about Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson’s Leading from the Second Chair unlocked a long-held belief I’ve had about leadership: there’s almost too much attention on the big chair.

Don’t get me wrong, training and mentoring leaders is essential. But until now, little has been written to guide, inspire and assure those of us who occupy the second chair.

We’re here for a reason and it isn’t because we aren’t good enough or ambitious enough for the top job.

We simply haven’t been anointed for high office. Success will be limited and the organisation could be at risk if we haven’t had the cloak thrown over our shoulders. (And we don’t get to choose when that happens.)

Leaders receive, refine and reinforce an organisation’s vision and strategy. This is their strength and where their focus should be.
Second chair leadership requires insight and wisdom not always available to the leader.

We see things our leaders cannot.

We respond to situations very differently. We are usually calmer.

We hold a position which allows us to tell our leaders what they don’t want to hear or aren’t being told.

The second chair is a specialist position to be treasured rather than shirked. It should be honoured rather than considered to be a lesser-than, leader-in-training role.

Effective number twos have what it takes to lead up and down the organisation, always with the leader’s vision at the forefront, as well as the leader’s welfare. We know when they’re tired, when they’re not at their best.

We carry a load unique to our role and should be recognised for our loyalty. Our leader tells us their inner most thoughts which they can’t express to the team. We see their vulnerabilities and their faults.

Bartlet and McGarrySpeaking recently to the CEO of an influential not-for-profit group I took the opportunity to edify his second chair. The CEO’s response was as gentle as a breath. His heart spoke. Of his number two he said “I’m at my best when he’s around.”

That’s your chief of staff.