Let me clarify what I mean by “selfish”. Being “selfish” at work means doing something that benefits you.
When you think about it, prioritizing the needs of our organization over (or at least at an equal level to) our own needs is actually a very selfish thing to do. This is self-serving. It makes us look good to our bosses, which ultimately means promotions and higher earnings. It also makes our organizations more successful and makes us feel good about ourselves. In this context, its ok to be selfish at work. It’s natural.
It’s not okay—or at least not sustainable—to be “selfish ego” driven at work. People are smart and professional people have enough life experience to “sniff out” and detect social behaviors in a Nano-second. Think of this simple litmus test:
Would a thoughtful person rather work to enrich and empower their boss or would that person rather work to advance a shared cause or Mission?
Given this powerful standard of measurement, one can draw a clear line between those behaviors that will drive workers away (selfish-ego actions) and those behaviors that will demonstrate the leader’s commitment to the common cause (“collective-ego” behaviors).
Succumbing to our selfish ego needs presents the likely risk that our selfish actions may cross the line of diminishing the effectiveness of our team. The message our self-centered actions communicate is that my reward system is more important than the reward systems of those in my charge. Face it- people are motivated by their own, individual reward systems- whether that may be personal growth, money, recognition, making a difference in the world or some other motivational incentive. Failing to satisfy the reward systems of those in your charge is failing to lead.
Fusion Leadership, a leadership style I discovered in my decades as co-founder and CEO of Integra Telecom, acknowledges our natural tendency to be selfish, exploring the every day decisions leaders face that tempt the selfish ego. For example, answering the question as to who becomes the smartest person in the room when you conduct a meeting; or the question as to how much to pay yourself compared to others on your team; or the countless other questions leaders face on a daily basis that tempt the selfish ego. I didn’t learn these principles in school or have some handy blueprint that told me what to say to whom or when or how much pressure to apply or what step to take next. In fact, it wasn’t until after I left my operating role that I reconstructed the culture shaping behaviors that motivated an amazing team of thousands who remained committed to and passionate about the company.
This leads to the ultimate question: How do you create a culture, over the course of time, which inspires passion and commitment in your employees?