The idea of selfless leadership is something that is regularly referenced in leadership books but generally gets subsumed in another topic such as Servant Leadership and other various models that focus on the empowering of others. However, to truly look at selfless leadership calls for deeper probing as a leader. Doing so will reveal two very different paths that at first blush can look identical.
Many times, the term “selfless leadership” brings up images of martyrdom, work-aholism, self-deprecation and ignoring self-care. All these descriptions have the appearance of selflessness. Persons leading in these ways receive a great deal of praise. These affirmations continue the behavior and much gets accomplished.
However, if not checked in some way, it becomes self-destructive behavior not only to the leader but also to those who are serving with this leader. When people lead in this way, trust erodes and is replaced by a leader who fears losing their power and followers who obey out of paranoia. Before long, this becomes leadership driven by self rather than selfless leadership. Power and control become obsessions....
The first step to achieve selfless leadership is self-awareness. This is not as easy as it seems. Self-awareness is defined as one understanding his or her strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and calling. Self-awareness includes an understanding of what drives you. A second very significant part of self-awareness involves understanding other people, how you are perceived, and how to respond to other people.
Much of this goes back to Socrates words “know thyself,” which was the basis of his philosophy. However, Socrates valued not only intellectual self-examination but also being in touch with one’s feelings. Self-examination and emotional awareness are inextricably connected and always needed to be in balance. Self-awareness is a continual journey and is always evolving. This is done as one is in relationship with other people, not in self-absorption and isolation.