Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Overcoming selfishness

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One of the non-leadership attributes that bleeds many organizations of their productivity and consumes much personal time is selfishness. It is the act of placing a higher priority on one’s own desires or “needs” than on the desires and needs of other people. When individuals choose to serve themselves over others a callous exterior develops around their personality that deflects the love and care of others, and isolates them from reality.

In their book High Altitude Leadership, Chris Warner and Don Schmincke discuss the debilitating toll selfishness takes on companies. They call destructive and unproductive condition of selfishness “dangerous, unproductive, dysfunctional” behavior, or DUD behavior. They provide excellent examples of how DUD behavior is manifest by individuals and organizations.

How much profit is lost? The results of analyzing over ten thousand executives from 1997 to 2007 are alarming: DUD behavior sucks 20 to 80 percent of productive time out of organizations, with the overall average hovering around 50 percent. People admit they waste half their time getting distracted by DUD behavior, yet rarely does a company measure this damage to productivity, quality, and speed. So when someone asks you how many people work at your company, chances are you should tell them, ‘About half.’

Few if any organizations afford the cost of non-productive behavior. Individuals cannot afford the opportunity cost — both in terms of money and reputation — of selfishness. Here are three simple rules to overcome selfishness:

  • Think of others first: When you come to a decision point, think of how it will affect other people who are involved. If you lead a team, how will the members react to your decision? Everyone has to make tough decisions at times, and those decisions will inevitably affect others. However, if you pause for a moment and think of how your actions will have an effect on other people, you can move forward with a quiet confidence.
  • Practice integrity: The word integrity is not necessarily the antithesis of selfishness. However, by living with integrity you will naturally find yourself looking out for others’ best interests. Your actions, values and methods of working will naturally move toward altruistic behavior and away from selfishness.
  • Develop trust: The very act of gaining people’s trust will cause you to not be selfish. When someone perceives you are only in it for yourself, they will not trust you. When they see you have their best interests in mind they will trust you. Be aware of people who might take advantage of you (don’t let that happen), but give people the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of your trust.

As a leader, take the time and make the effort to develop a culture that overcomes the debilitating difficulty of selfishness.


The Product Management Perspective: As a product manager you depend on your relationships with other people. Think of others when making decisions. This is not meant to imply you do should always do what someone else (e.g., the customer, the development manager, the analyst) wants with no good reason. However, by listening to others and trusting their input, you will make better decisions, gain the trust of those with whom you interact and increase your value within your organization.

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3 thoughts on “Overcoming selfishness

  1. Pingback: Book Review: High Altitude Leadership « Lead on Purpose

  2. Pingback: Success is not a zero-sum game « Lead on Purpose

  3. Pingback: Causes of Leadership Failure – Selfishness | Back-Office Bulletin

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