How Selflessness and Leadership Go Hand In Hand

Concern more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own. This definition is just about the last thing anyone thinks of when they think of leaders.

When it comes to leadership, the most often discussed traits are communication, learning agility, empathy, integrity, and respect. Still, one of the most overlooked characteristics a leader must have is selflessness.

Welcome to Snapreads! Today, we’re going to be talking about how selflessness and leadership go hand in hand.


The Road to Character

by David Brooks

⏱ 15 minutes reading time

🎧 Audio version available

Buy on Amazon


The 8 Dimensions of Leadership

Here are the eight dimensions of leadership to get us started, which sets apart selfless leaders from self-serving ones.

Selfless leaders are authentic. What you see from them is what you get. There is no ulterior motive, no schemes, and no plans to undermine you.

They’re humble, but they’re not weak, but it makes them more inspiring to follow.

They’re simple. They don’t have a superiority complex, a god complex, or any kind of complex that affects the workplace.

They lead by example, and not just in the workplace. At home, as parents, family members, friends, and community members, they are the same person.

They’re just as invested in the process to success as they are in the outcome, so they don’t go around cutting corners.

They’re almost completely oblivious of their own selfless trait.
They may be already heading a leadership position without having an official title or role. They aren’t in it for recognition.

Without searching for them, they have followers in both their work and personal lives.

They try to turn their followers into leaders as well. This will come up later.

The world isn’t centered around what they want. It’s centered around what’s good for the team, for the company, and what will benefit everyone in the long run, not in the short run.

And most importantly, they leave legacies behind.

Selfless Leaders Versus Selfish Leaders

To compare a selfless leader to a selfish one, you’ll find that the two’s approach to leadership is completely contrary to each other in strategies, goals, ways, and means.

Selfless leaders focus on achieving the success of the organization and the people around them before looking for their own personal success.

When they are about to embark on something, they ask whether or not this is the right thing to do here and then they question the best way they can do it.

They take into account what everyone on the team thinks. This selflessness that this leader exhibits leads to every team member feeling free to take necessary actions, even in the face of risk and opposition.

At the end of the day, selfless leaders leave positive and lasting accomplishments, as well as a positive impression.

Meanwhile, selfish or self-centered leaders, whenever they face a task they ask, “What’s in it for me?” And then they question the best use for others to accomplish this task with the least personal accountability and risk.

A self-centered leader’s focus is more on controlling the team. They then take recognition for everyone else’s actions and take credit.

And when something concerning the task is criticized, the self-centered leader is happy to direct the criticism back to the team. To them, looking good is a lot more important than achieving something good or being good in the first place.

Under their tutelage, a toxic, tiring, and slavish work environment is the result. When all credit virtually goes to this leader, those who served under them are just happy that they escaped criticism and that they have moved on. People who work for self-centered swear that they’ll never work for that leader again.

No lasting or positive accomplishments are left in the wake of leaders of this type, nor is their impression or reputation in any way flattering. They often become used as examples of what leaders shouldn’t do.

They Put Others’ Interests First

What makes selfless leaders so endearing and respected is that they put others’ interests before their own.

Instead of taking the selfish route and snatching a promotion opportunity from an employee, they’ll recommend them.

They Share Their Power

That lack of selfishness means that they have no qualms with relinquishing control and sharing their power.

They understand that sometimes, they need to empower employees to take ownership in order to increase engagement and help the team reach its full potential.

They See Interruptions as Opportunities

This is related to how your leader reacts when you interrupt him. If a self-centered leader is heading the project, then team members will be hesitant to even ask questions or update them on their progress in fear of that leader taking credit for their hard work.

And chances are that this leader will react negatively when it comes to different attempts at communication. When an employee looks to them for guidance, selfless leaders won’t show signs of frustration or annoyance that will deter people away.

Instead, whether it’s through emails, texts, meetings, or in person visits, employees feel comfortable and safe to come to them with questions.

They Encourage Instead of Criticize

When a boss publicly tears apart someone’s work then dismiss it as “business,” and when they’re overly critical of an employee’s work, it’s no surprise when these employees grow to be insecure.

Then take a look at how a selfless leader keeps his ship running smoothly. Instead of brutally criticizing their team, they provide helpful and constructive feedback.

They Balance Speaking and Listening

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply” is a Steve R. Covey quote that resonates with everyone who’s had an inflexible boss.

As an employee, when your leader isn’t paying attention or when they’re just waiting for you to finish speaking to bestow some of their wisdom, that can be incredibly damaging to both your self-esteem and work quality.

Selfless leaders aren’t in love with the sound of their own voice. They take the time and effort to fully concentrate on what’s being said to them rather than just passively hearing or entirely ignoring what their team is trying to tell them.

They also don’t let biases affect what they take from the conversation.

It Leads to Greater Teamwork

When you think about the workplace, words like selflessness and kindness aren’t typical things that you can apply, but these are some of the most essential things that need to be more popularized.

A study at George Mason University showed that “a culture of companionate love led to higher levels of employee engagement with their work via greater teamwork and employee satisfaction.”

They Know Right from Wrong

Everyone has encountered these self-serving leaders who believe that “the ends justify the means,” but truly selfless leaders know right from wrong, and they understand the damage they could inflict by teaching their team to be morally ambiguous.

Truth is something that is central to not only their leadership, but to their characters and entire lives. This is why they have a reputation for being reliable and why what they say is believed. On the other side of the moral scale, a self-centered leader sees the truth as something that depends on the situation, finds it flexible, or just dismisses it entirely irrelevant.

Because of this, general distrust and doubt are common where they work. The only thing employees can be certain of is that their decisions will always end up benefiting them in some way.

They Have High-Self Esteem

What separates self-serving leaders from selfless ones is their self-esteem. Selfless leaders tend to have high self-esteem, so they don’t feel the incessant need to prove a point. In the wild, lions go around, roaring and constantly trying to reestablish themselves as the king of the jungle.

Meanwhile, there is a multitude of other animals that can easily dethrone them. The elephant can easily throw a lion away like a toy, but it chooses to live peacefully with its herd, and the same goes for giraffes, tigers– maybe not tigers, but those have nothing to prove either.

The point is selfless leaders never need to reestablish themselves as the smartest person in the world, the most successful, the richest, and or things like that. Instead, they’re driven by values and convictions. They lead by example, and they believe in the greater good and putting the benefit of others before their own.

Self-serving leadership occurs when that person maximizes personal recognition over the benefits of all others.

They’re Courageous

Selflessness and leadership go together because both require insane amounts of courage. A leader’s decisions determine the future of the team and the missions, and courage, cowardice, or even neutrality are factors that feed into the success of the goal.

Leaders have to stand and fight back against others opposing what is right and questioning their moral compass, even when it comes from the higher-ups. Standing up like this is never comfortable, and it requires bravery.

Instead of facing adversity or risk without fear, they face them and do the right thing anyway.

In stark contrast, self-centered leaders will not only claim neutrality in the face of being challenged, but you can be sure that they’re always looking for ways to claim favors. They avoid situations where they risk displeasing the higher ups or challenging popular opinion.

In a nutshell, they have no principles, and thus, no courage. Unlike them, selfless leaders stand in the face of injustice, apathy, and fear with a steadfastness that inspires others around them.

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