The Most Important Tip For Selfless Leadership

You’re not as important as you think you are.

I don’t say this to be mean or cruel or harsh. I don’t say this to you only. I say this to myself as well. It is absurdly easy to get into a mindset where I am consumed with me, myself, and I. It’s just human nature. If unattended, I slip into a perspective of selfishness and looking out for my needs only. I just can’t help myself. This happens in all areas of my life: personal, professional, financial, etc.

Sometimes I forget that the world is a much bigger place than the spot I physically occupy. But the truth is the truth. The Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun. It does not orbit around me no matter the circumstance. Whether I am in the throes of an exhilarating victory or agonizing defeat, I can be assured that the sun will rise and the sun will set. And everything that happens between those two times is not only about me. If I simply open my eyes and extend my gaze beyond myself I can see that there are people who have needs that far outstrip mine.

Here I am reminded of a story about Mother Teresa and how she wore shoes that were way too small for her feet. She did this at her physical expense because she wanted those in abject poverty to have their first pick of shoes when shipments arrived. I mention Mother Teresa not because we can all be like her (obviously she is an incredible example of a selfless life). However, we can be cognizant of our selfish tendencies and work intentionally to become selfless in our own lives. This is the essence of selfless leadership or servant leadership if you prefer.

The selfless leader, however imperfect they may be, finds ways to rise above the norm of self-centered and self-indulgent thinking and acting. This is a practice formed one habit at a time, one small decision at a time.

Now let me be clear here. I am not condoning recklessly and indiscriminately pursuing a life of no possessions (especially if it is to the detriment of your family). I am not here to shame people for their cars, homes, or vacations. I am simply here to help people become better leaders at home, at work, athletically, or in the community. I believe in these principles and I try my hardest to apply them in my own life.

So let me share a way that I hope will help. I recently heard about Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule on a podcast (sorry I forget which exactly). I found the concept very interesting. Here it is in a nutshell: “If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.” Now I have not read the book, but the concept made a lot of sense to me. My wife and I employ a 5-second countdown (in addition to 10, 5, and 1-minute warnings) to help our kids transition from one activity to another (mostly from playing with toys to cleaning up those toys). The physical movement is a key aspect for my kids in accomplishing the goal of cleaning up or washing up for a meal. (Parenting hack provided free of charge)

For our purposes, however, I would like to propose a slight twist: physically stopping to think in a moment of selfishness. How do I know I am having a moment of selfishness? I think emotions are a good indicator here. Personally, anger is my go-to emotion. So I have to stop myself in that moment where feelings of anger are starting to bubble up. Then I have to ask a series of questions:

Why is this moment eliciting such an emotional response?

Could it be that the actions of another are impinging on my own world?

Are they really trying to ruin my life?

Am I being too sensitive?

Are my needs really important in this situation?

What would happen if I put those needs on the back burner?

What do I have to gain or lose?

What does the other person have to gain or lose?

What’s the worst that could happen if I am selfless? Selfish?

The idea here is that the answers to these questions can help lead us out of selfish pursuits and into selfless leadership. This is the time to practice being an outward facing person. That does not mean every situation will warrant letting the other person have their way. I don’t advocate being a doormat. There are situations that may call for momentary selfishness in a pursuit of a longer-term strategy of selflessness. At least you did your due diligence to consider the other person’s perspective.

I’m not going to lie. It’s not an easy thing to be so introspective. And it may take more than 5 seconds. Self-awareness as a part of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a huge part of the leadership conversation these days. The best leaders are able to pause and reflect in emotional situations so they can come to rational and (sometimes) selfless decisions.

My hope for myself and for you is that we can become better leaders (parents, bosses, and coaches) by being focused less on our own selves and our own wellbeing and more on the people around us and under our purview. The world needs more selfless leaders. Will you join me on the journey?

-Gene

P.S. If you like what you are reading, check out the rest of the blog. Thanks so much!

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