5 Ways to Rise Above Self-Seeking Leadership

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Ernest Hemingway

Ego is healthy when it’s used in service of others. But egotistical leaders undermine teams because they’re self-seeking.

12 marks of self-seeking leadership:

  1. Contention. The need to prove you’re right and others are wrong at the expense of relationships.
  2. Rivalry. The drive to outdo others to elevate personal status.
  3. Manipulation. Secretly influence others for personal advantage.
  4. Unethical office politics. Building relationships with power-players while neglecting those with less power or prestige.
  5. Envy. Displeasure at the success or advancement of others.
  6. Backstabbing. Undermining the credibility of others with the goal of limiting their opportunities, potential, success, and advancement.
  7. Self-promotion. Elevating yourself at the expense of others.
  8. Finger-pointing to preserve personal status.
  9. Flaunting the trappings of position and power as a tool of intimidation and self-elevation.
  10. Massaging a public image that has no substance behind it.
  11. Credit-stealing and boasting.
  12. Delusions of grandeur. False impressions of one’s importance.


Self-seeking leaders are seduced by appearances. They’re impressed by superficial appearances. They believe cock and bull stories. They hire people who puff themselves up and neglect job employees of substance.

Humble leaders:

Humble leaders love to brag about others because they see their strengths. But self-seeking leaders see weaknesses everywhere they look.

Humble leaders know success depends on others. They put team success above personal success.

Humble leaders align personal interest with organizational advantage.

Triggers to humble service:

Use the pull of self-interest to trigger humble service.

  1. When you feel the need to puff yourself up, praise someone on the team.
  2. When you need status, give honor.
  3. When personal advantage dominates your thinking, ask, “How can I help?”
  4. When you want others to serve you, dedicate your energy to helping your team win.
  5. Commit to elevate the performance of others.

Challenge for the week:

Repeat this mantra in your head, “Others are more important than me.”

Repeat your mantra when:

  1. Leading meetings.
  2. Having conversations.
  3. Dealing with tough issues.
  4. Confronting or correcting.
  5. Coaching or teaching.

How do you spot self-serving leaders?

What suggestions do you have for the daily practice of humble leadership.

*I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.