Leadership: Selfish vs Self-ish

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A good friend of mine left work this week and it is going to be difficult to replace her.

She was a great mentor and leader. She displayed behaviours about what a great leader can be. The whole team looked to her as a leader, a friend and someone they could rely on for her technical expertise.

She didn’t see herself this way but…

it is the team who defines who and what a great leader is, not the leader!

Me!

This made me start thinking about leaders and leadership, as I often do, and comparing a good leader with a lesser leader. And whilst there are many variations of leadership within the business world, and within the world in general, I’ve come down to two distinctions between leaders and their effectiveness within the context of the teams they work with:

Selfish Leaders versus Self-ish Leaders

A selfish leader is leading purely for themselves, for their own growth, development, recognition, and ego.

The self-ish leader also wants to succeed, very much so, but works with and through the team and relationships rather than just being “the Boss!”

The Self-ish Leader

A Self-ish Leader achieves their goals through the results of their team.

They will work on their team’s skills, knowledge and attitudes to help their people achieve their goals, seemingly at the cost of working on themselves and affecting their personal results.

However, this is not completely true. It isn’t all about the team. The leader needs to develop their communication, coaching and difficult conversation skills as well as an ongoing list of other skills in order to develop their team. This may be letting people go, ongoing performance management and engaging with difficult team members and difficult customers.

The leader is constantly developing.

Simply by helping their team succeed, they will be developing themselves as a leader and achieving the results required.

In addition, by developing their team, they will, on average, have a better retention rate. A better retention rate means less recruitment, greater productivity and better morale as the team gets to know and learn from each other. Upwards and onwards…

Signs of Self-ish Leaders. Team members will:

  • Willingly follow their Self-ish Leaders, not just because they are the Boss
  • Provide greater discretionary effort — their efforts are appreciated and acknoweldged, performance gaps are coached
  • Have a bias towards action – they want to succeed and have an innate sense of not wanting to let the team, or the Leader, down.

The Selfish Leader

A selfish leader, focusing on themselves, approaches things differently. It’s about how good they can look. The team’s results are a reflection on them personally (this is true) but they take it personally. People aren’t “pulling their weight”, people need to be brought into line, and, “If only they did as I told them.”

Lack of results means people are lazy or, as one leader I have worked with put it, “taking the piss”.

In the Selfish Leader world, the leader and the team are “enemies”. Leaders in this realm are there to invoke their version of “world domination”. I heard one newly promoted Team Leader state, “Great, now I can tell people what to do.” There is a semblance of seeing people as colleagues and valuing them but, as time goes on, it becomes “do it my way leadership”.

As this happens, people close up, offer less suggestions and ideas for improvement because the leader “will do it their way anyway.” The irony being, as people shut down, the leader has to do it all themself because no-one is offering better or at the least, other suggestions. All the while the self absorbed, Selfish Leader is oblivious to what is happening.

Signs of Selfish Leaders :

  • Lower productivity: staff will be second guessing themselves as to what the leader wants. Because the leader is insecure about their success or progress, what they want might change regularly.
  • Lessening results: results will fluctuate. There will be good days, weeks and months. But as per the next point, they won’t reach their potential because the rules are always changing, with turnover, team members will be changing, affecting long term results.
  • Higher than industry average turnover: People will put up with a lot but only to a point. Some will stick it out for various reasons (see below), others will make a quick exit while others will wait around and potentially become poorer performers until something comes along, or they hope the situation will improve.

With regards to turnover I was interviewing a Leader about this recently and they smiled and said it was “good turnover’, meaning bad apples were leaving. A couple of points he was oblivious to were:

  1. He hired these people — so maybe the hiring process (and he) needs a review
  2. Regardless of good v bad apples, 50% turnover over an extended period of time (2+ years) is not good for any organization, either from a cost, production perspective but even worse from a customer perspective. A 50% turn over means that, on average, customers are dealing with representatives who know little to nothing about the product they are discussing. This becomes worse when the product is complex. (think insurance, lending, leasing etc).

Another example of a Selfish Leader versus a Self-ish Leader is in daily interactions. I know a few leaders who, as soon as they get into the office, go for a walk to say hello to those who are already there. One leader has people hiding from them, telling others “she is on her way, look busy”. While the other leader has staff wanting to stop and have a pleasant chat.

Signs of a Selfish Leader:

  • People who follow Selfish Leaders do so because they are “the Boss”, they have power over them simply due to their role, not their relationship.
  • There is less discretionary effort — if effort is not genuinely appreciated (staff can tell) the discretionary effort drops off.
  • A bias towards inaction. Selfish Leader will need to come up with “motivators” for staff to take on extra tasks. This is both challenging and energy sapping. Many mature staff members see this is being treated like children.

One last thing

With all the above being from my observations and worth reflecting on, there is one element that is frequently overlooked: the Leader’s Leader.

While we can and should look at Selfish Leaders versus Self-ish Leaders, a lot of it will depend on that Leader’s leader.

If a selfish leader is allowed to continue in their role, their leader is asleep at the wheel. They are not paying attention to the underlying issues of ongoing problems like turnover, constant requests for more staff to deal with customer service issues and suffering metrics.

And that could be because the Leader’s leader is also a selfish leader and not a self-ish leader.

What do you think?

  • Have you worked for a selfish leader?
  • What strategies have you used to manage these environments?
  • What are the benefits of working for a selfish leader?

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts.

Thank you for reading.

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