Why Selfish Leadership Comes Before Selfless Leadership (#245)

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Most of the time, leaders aspire to become the selfless head of the pack—someone who will never put their interest and even their growth over others. As much as we think that this is great, it can be detrimental not only to you but also to your team. In this episode, I talk about how I became a better leader and allowed my team to grow more when I became selfish. Sometimes, we need to be selfish and figure out who we truly are first before we can selflessly serve others.

Full transcript below

Episode timestamps:

Show notes:
[1:21] What kind of a leader or a person are you?
[3:46] My deep pit of uncertainty
[6:10] Why I had to be selfish first to become selfless
[8:04] Key takeaway
[9:23] Outro

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Mike Malatesta  00:15

Hey, everybody, welcome back to the show. Today I have a short solo episode for you. I’m going to talk to you today about the difference between being selfless and being selfish. I want to start first by saying that, as you know, if you read my book, or you know from following me at all, that I am not a person that’s out there to tell you what to do. I don’t know what everyone should do, so I’m in no position to tell anyone what to do. But I am in a position to offer you things to think about. And this is another one of the things that I want to talk about with you today to help you, encourage you, or inspire you to think about something a little bit differently. 

The question I have for you is, What kind of a leader are you? How do you define yourself? And even if you’re not a leader, what kind of a person are you? How do you define yourself? How do you describe yourself? For me, throughout my entrepreneurial career and my personal life as well, I was always trying to be a selfless person. Meaning that I felt like it was my duty and my obligation. And I thought it was right to put everyone else’s needs and wants and desires before mine. I call that being selfless. And I there’s a lot of good things about being selfless, right? Coaches are selfless, and teachers are selfless. And we describe, or we associate a lot of good things and good people with the word selfless. And I never want to, you know, give up that right? Because there’s no way I can say being selfless is not a good thing; it is a good thing. But for me, particularly in my entrepreneurial capacity and in growing companies, I think I got that a little bit wrong, because while I was being what I thought was selfless or servant, or some of the other words that you hear used about it, I was actually over the years becoming lazy. And I was confusing being impactful, or being busy with being impactful or productive. And ultimately, I was just becoming frustrated too. So I had all these things that I was trying to be selfless about, make myself feel like I was doing the things that a good leader should do. And the result of those things is that I was becoming lazy. I was becoming busy instead of productive or impactful. And I was becoming frustrated. And I had to fall into a really deep pit that I call the Valley of Uncertainty. I had fallen in that pit and wallowed around there with my frustration for a while. There were a lot of things that led to that. But the reality was I was in this place ,in this Valley of Uncertainty, and I just didn’t know what to do. And I was thinking to myself, How could all of these things that I’ve been doing, putting everybody first and doing all these things, or at least in my mind, that’s what I was doing, and end up here in a place that I didn’t like ,in a place that I didn’t think I deserved and in a place that I was feeling the way I was feeling. And after wallowing around in there for a while and then finally reaching out and sort of getting some help, which I’d never done either. 

It became clear to me that I was thinking about this all wrong because instead of being selfless, I really needed to be selfish, and selfish has a terrible connotation. People don’t like the word, at least the way that the word is generally ascribed to other people, because it’s not a pleasant thing to be thought of or called. It’s not like self-confidence or self-motivating, you know. It’s a bad self, not a good self. But regardless of that, and you could use another word for it if you’d like, but I chose the word selfish, because I really needed to understand where I was going, and where I wanted to be ;what I wanted my future to, to look like. And being selfless wasn’t getting me there. In fact, it was really getting me further and further away from there, because when I was being selfless, I mentioned, you know, lazy, and I was being lazy, because I was doing all these things to put the other people first and put them before me, but I also putting their work before my work. And I was basically ignoring the work I was supposed to be doing as a leader and as the entrepreneur. It’s because I could do all these other things, and I didn’t have to do that hard work. So, when I decided to get selfish, it really gave me the clarity to understand that, in order for me to ever be selfless, I had to be selfish first, so that I could be very, very sure about what I wanted. And then I could convey that to everyone on my team in this particular case. And if you don’t have a team, it could be to, you know, your friends, or your colleagues or someone around you, because you need them to support you to get to your goals. 

So when I got selfish, I became way more focused.  don’t want to use the word visionary, but it helped me to start to see things that I hadn’t been seeing before and that people on my team and around me hadn’t been seeing at all, either. And then on top of all that, it made me happy. And when I was clear about all those things. I was focused, and I had vision, and I was happy, I also had confidence. And when I had all of that whole package, I could go back to my team and (1) I could lead which I hadn’t been doing, and (2) I could help them, because I needed them to contribute in a much bigger way. In order for this to work for me, I could go back to them and be very clear about empowering them, providing the direction, give them the autonomy, and benefit from the talent that I had in my organization that, while I was being selfless or what I thought I was being selfless, I was kind of ignoring it; I wouldn’t say I was completely ignoring it, but I certainly was discounting it. And that was a really big mistake. 

So my lesson for today is just think about it. Think about how you describe yourself and who you are. And, and if you are selfless, that’s great. As long as the selflessness isn’t getting in the way of what you want, and as long as it’s making you happy. But if you’re not, if it’s not, try thinking about becoming a little bit selfish, because as I said, when I did that, it really, really made a difference in how I thought and how I lead. And how happy I was. And who doesn’t want to be as happy as you can. Because the world is definitely against you when it comes to keeping you happy. So you’ve got to keep yourself happy. If you want to learn more about this, first you can go to my book, Owner Shift — How Getting Selfish Got Me Unstuck. There are some great stories in there about how I managed to do that. And of course, you can keep coming back here and following me on How’d It Happen” in podcasts because I’ll be doing more and more episodes about these kinds of things and hoping to share what I’ve learned with all of you. Until next time. Thank you and I’ll see you soon

Mike Malatesta

Mike Malatesta

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I help entrepreneurs get unstuck, take back their power, achieve their life objectives, and create the futures they want.

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