Build Your Team with a Little Gift Giving

by Jeff Barta

The holidays are always associated with presents and the positive feelings associated with both giving and receiving a gift. Recently as I was unpacking holiday boxes and trimming the tree, I grew nostalgic reflecting on the ornaments given to me by my Leaders across various assignments. As a new leader of an organization, this year I was responsible for creating and sharing this year’s ornament.


I was very fortunate to have a thorough and complete handover with the previous leader who even included this seemingly minor detail in the transition plans. Among all of the wisdom that he shared, he left me with the insight about the power of gift giving within an organization. This idea is derived from Garry Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts.

Many military families reference Chapman’s book to improve family balance through enhanced relationships. His theory states that love is received and expressed in five “languages”: gift giving, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Many of Chapman’s lessons are as equally important in our military organizations as in our personal lives.

We have experienced this often in our military careers and typically depart with enough momentos to apportion an entire house. Coins, poker chips, framed prints, plaques, kitchen service-ware, wine glasses, beer steins, broaches, pins, baby cups, and even custom grill sets adorned with organizational symbols and colors serve as proud reminders to those with whom we have served. Chapman says that people have a higher affinity for feeling love in one of the languages more than the others. Presenting tokens of appreciation is a way to speak to a team members love language of gift giving.

Napoleon Bonaparte realized this two hundred years ago when he said “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Modern leadership expert Simon Sinek would argue that receiving or giving a gift releases dopamine in the human brain, triggering primal feelings of belonging within the tribe. These ideas reinforce the power of presenting the gift of a coin along with appreciative “words of affirmation” and the “physical touch” of a pat on the back to speak to a subordinates love language.

Further, the act of welcoming a new Family to the unit with a pin and flowers, recognizing a birth with a baby cup or saying farewell and thank you with the gift of unit colors is a long tradition and an excellent way to show appreciation to members of the organization.

As leaders, we should use this time of year as a reminder to the power of gift giving to both those that we love at home as well as work. Whether you are admiring the ornaments and gifts from years past or handing out your own this year, Chapman’s love language of gift giving is at work to help build closeness in our units.

LTC Jeff Barta is an 18 year veteran Armor officer who has served in Cavalry, Armor, and Infantry formations. He currently commands the 3rd Squadron, 16th U.S. Cavalry Regiment – the Army’s schoolhouse for Reconnaissance and Security leader training. His tactical lessons have been frequently featured in military publications like the Center for Army Lessons Learned.

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  • Liz Boulton

    Hi, I really like this idea – it also connects with Cheal D (2015) The gift economy, vol 4. Routledge, and Hyde L (2007) The gift: How the creative spirit transforms the world. Canongate Books,

    Gifts had great significance and importance in ancient history, they are a way of establishing esoteric connections among tribes and communities etc. There was often a rule that a ‘gift’ should not be kept, it had to pass to the next generation, next host of a festivity etc etc ~ Olympic Flame.