The Real Value of Selfless Leadership

Selfish Vs. Selfless Leadership

Have you ever worked for someone that seems to care only for his or her own interests? Someone who doesn’t seem to be concerned with employees or co-workers, or even society in general? I’d guess that all of us have worked with someone at some point (perhaps now) who seems to like to dominate. Someone who seems to thrive on outright tyranny. If someone familiar springs to mind, here are a few things to think about…

What if they behave that way because they believe domination is the best way to lead? What if they’ve somehow come to believe that the only thing that matters is that they come out ahead, no matter what the consequences to those around us? And what if these beliefs about leadership were based on the fact that the people under their charge seem to actually respond well to their tyrannical approach?

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, indicates that people tend to appreciate and respect those they believe to be generous and selfless. However, when in a competitive environment, they tend to elect leaders whom they believe to be selfish, dominant and ruthless. The researchers believe that most of us unknowingly believe that leaders should be “decisive, assertive, strong, powerful and independent.”

When those same people were asked what qualities they prefer in a leader, they vocalized their preference for selfless leadership. But their behavior indicated that they would actually support leaders who value their own interests and power above the well-being of others. It would seem, from this study, that most people are attracted to leaders who care more about power than purpose.

But, here’s where selfless leadership thrives…

In non-competitive, community minded, socially conscious or philanthropic organizations. Organizations like Credit Unions. In organizations such as ours, selfless leadership flourishes. So what does it mean to be a selfless leader?

Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why and Leaders Eat Last, has identified a few key differences between selfish and selfless leaders:

  • We respect selfish leaders… but we love selfless leaders.
  • We are dependent on selfish leaders and become more dependent over time… We are dependent on selfless leaders at first, but become independent over time.
  • Selfish leaders have a scarcity mentality… selfless leaders have an abundance mentality.
  • Selfish leaders are relied upon, but we feel constantly uncertain about what they’re going to do… Selfless leaders are trusted because we know they have our best interests in mind.
  • Selfish leadership produces fragile relationships: when the leader leaves, teams and people die… Selfless leadership produces resilient relationships: they are helping others achieve confidence and independence.
  • Selfish leadership promotes negative fear because they’re unpredictable and we are afraid of them hurting us… Selfless leadership promotes positive fear because we are scared of disappointing or hurting them
  • Selfish leaders produce and are focused on short-term ROI… Selfless leaders know that by putting others first they will be able to produce lasting long-term ROI.

It would seem that selfless leaders don’t view their employees as a means to an end; rather, they believe that their employees’ happiness IS the end. They believe there is value in putting their people and their organization first.

This doesn’t mean that selfless leaders aren’t powerful. Selfless leadership does not require you to check your backbone at the door. It just means adopting a leadership style that is focused on what they can do for their employees, their members and their organization as a whole. It’s about accepting the fact that just because you’re the boss, that doesn’t mean you must be bossy and domineering.

When you stop to consider the long-term implications and rewards of selfless leadership, it seems clear which leadership style holds the most value for Credit Unions.

What are some other characteristics that you believe differentiate a selfless leaders, mentor, coach or manager?

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.


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