I worked for a narcissist early in my career. He shall remain nameless. He was a smart, experienced, and capable businessman. He was highly organized, disciplined, and paid close attention to details. He ran a good meeting, had a good planning process, and kept us on track to meet budget. He was married with a lovely wife and two children.
I learned plenty from this leader. I adopted some of his processes. I admired his personal discipline and tried to get more of that in my life. His high standards raised my capabilities and I performed well while working for him.
But, I quit working for him as soon as humanly possible because at the end of the day, he did not care one bit about my growth and development or the team that I led. He only cared about himself and it was obvious on a daily basis.
He scheduled meetings with complete disregard for anyone else’s calendar and they were command performances. He chose what we ate at our staff meetings without ever asking if anyone else liked that food. He planned fun outings where we played the sport he was best at.
When it came time for performance reviews, he told us all the ways we fell short of his capabilities. He was a miserable boss and I spent every waking hour that I worked for him planning to quit.
Narcissism is rampant in our American culture. It is celebrated in our fascination with self-absorbed celebrities like Charlie Sheen. It is evident in the top CEOs in the country by lists like the lowest golf handicap among American CEOs.
It’s evident in moral downfalls like the Madoff Ponzi scheme that took down hundreds of unsuspecting investors. It is evident in professors more concerned about their tenure than the education of your child. It evident in faith circles where well known religious leaders commit adultery thinking they will not get caught.
“America has become a nation of gamblers and speculators, gluttons and gym obsessives, pornographers and Ponzi schemers, in which household debt rises alongside public debt, and bankers and pensioners and automakers and unions all compete to empty the public trough.”~ Ross Douthat
Before you congratulate yourself on not doing any of the things I mentioned, consider this: narcissism is our natural state. It exists in every single one of us.
If you don’t believe me, offer to babysit a two year old this weekend. Watch their selfish impulses, their refusal to share, their inflexibility to changing circumstances, and watch the culmination of self-focus, and the tantrum. There remains a two year old just under the surface of every adult being. Just watch yourself the next time your fast food order is incorrect or the airlines loses your luggage.
The challenge I bring to you, to be a servant leader, you must train yourself to deny your impulse to be self-focused. This is not a popular thought. Heck, I don’t even want someone to tell me I can’t have a piece of chocolate when I want one. Now you want me to practice denying myself on a daily basis.
“Looking more broadly, is there any human excellence—in the trades or professions, in business, the arts, athletics , academia or marriage and family life—that is NOT the fruit of saying “no” to our transitory desires in pursuit of what endures?”~ Rev. Gregory Jensen
This quote is so provocative and true that it must be considered. It says there is no excellence accomplished in this life without self-denial. Think about it.
Excellent relationships require giving up your own wants for someone else. Excellent athletic performance requires giving up day after day of practice and preparation. Excellence in the medical profession requires years of schooling. Excellence in fatherhood requires giving up a golf game to be at your son’s soccer game. Excellence for the painter means stacks of incomplete canvases that didn’t make the cut.
Excellence in achieving business results means denying your selfish desires. It means staying late to coach a team member through a difficult situation. It means changing your schedule to attend a meeting that is essential to getting to the business goals. It means putting yourself to bed at 10 so you are not a grumpy leader tomorrow. It means denying your need for recognition, and making sure the team who did the heavy lifting gets public credit.
What behavior do you need to stop because it may be perceived as self-centered to your team? What behavior do you need to demonstrate to your team that lets them know they are more important than you?