WEEKLY GUT CHECK: Are You A Selfish Or Selfless Leader?

January 23, 2014 Vince Molinaro

Blog Selfish or Selfless Leader

I was recently asked by a large organization to meet with their top 80 leaders. My task was to lead them in a pointed discussion about the kind of leadership their organization needed to build for the future.

I asked the group to identify the characteristics of the great leaders they personally admired. The typical things emerged:  vision, courage, and a drive for results. As the discussion continued one leader said that the greatest leaders are selfless. It was a term that caught everyone’s attention. Then one by one, there was widespread agreement on this theme. The great leaders rarely put themselves or their personal agendas first. They lead for a greater purpose that goes beyond self-interest. They lead for the whole enterprise.

That discussion prompted me to ask this week’s Gut Check question: are you a selfish or selfless leader?

To help you answer that question, I thought it would be helpful to provide a short quiz that should, if you’re being honest in your answers, reveal if you have selfish tendencies as a leader.

1) Is it all about you? It’s been my experience that far too many leaders have self interest as their primary motivator. They are constantly asking themselves, ‘what’s in it for me?’ Everyone who works for them knows it and it erodes trust.

2) Do you abuse your power for personal gain? A clear sign of a selfish leader is the propensity to use your power not only to promote your own career, but also to hold others down. Do you take advantage of your position to make decisions and orchestrate outcomes because you will personally gain in the end?

3) Do you have a penchant for throwing tantrums? Loud, obvious displays of emotion, often to protest something a leader doesn’t like, can be another hallmark of a selfish leader. These are the leaders who rarely stop to consider the impact of tantrums on morale and employee engagement.

4) Do you tend to only reward people who defer to you? If you spend a lot of time asking people “what have you done for me lately?” then you are likely viewing the performance of others based solely on what you have gained from it. That is a complete lack of concern about the personal growth of others in your organization.

5) Do you spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to preserve your ‘turf’? If you do, then every decision is made through a personal lens, rather than what’s best for your entire company. It’s impossible to engage in true enterprise perspective if you’re only worried about your own department, budget and resources.

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, then you may be seen as a selfish leader.  You need some serious self-reflection time.

Selfless leaders are valuable commodities in companies because they are constantly looking at the welfare of the entire organization, and not just what they can see immediately outside their office doors. Selfless leaders are more confident in the knowledge that the more success their organizations experience, the more success they will personally enjoy because they will be seen as a leader with no hidden agenda. People trust you.  They will follow you.

So, this week’s Gut Check is fairly simple. Are you a selfless leader, or are you being held back by your own selfishness?

Follow me @VinceMolinaro

About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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