Do You Have an Excessive Need to Be Yourself?

One of the 20 annoying habits discussed in my book, What Got You Here Won't Get You There, is "an excessive need to be me." What do we mean by "an excessive need to be me?"

Each of us has a pile of behaviors that we define as "me." These are the behaviors, both positive and negative, that we think of as our unalterable essence.

While many of these "me" behaviors may be positive (e.g., "I am smart" or "I am hard working"), some may be negative (e.g., "I am a bad listener" or "I am always late").

If we buy into our behavior definition of "me," which most humans do, we can learn to excuse almost any annoying action by saying, "That's just the way I am!"

Some years ago, I worked with a CEO who was generally regarded as a great leader of people but was seen as lacking in the ability to provide positive recognition. As we reviewed his 360-degree feedback report, he snorted, "What do you want me to do, go around praising people who don't deserve it? I don't want to look like a phony!"

"Is that your excuse for not giving recognition?" I asked. "You don't want to look like a phony?"

"Yes," he replied. He then went into a tirade about why he shouldn't give recognition:

  1. He had high standards — and people didn't always meet them.
  2. He didn't like to hand out praise indiscriminately — because this cheapened the value of praise when it was deserved.
  3. He believed that singling out individuals could weaken the team.

I asked him, "Why can't doing a great job of providing positive recognition be you? It's not immoral, illegal, or unethical is it?"

"No," he conceded.

"Will it make people feel better?"

"Yes."

"Will they perform better as a result of this well-deserved positive recognition?"

"Probably."

"So please explain to me — why aren't you doing it?"

He laughed and replied, "Because it wouldn't be ME!"

That was the moment when change became possible. He realized that he was not only hurting his employees' and company's chances for success — he was hurting his own chance for success. He realized that he could shed his "excessive need to be me" and not be a phony.

The payoff was enormous. Within a year his scores on giving recognition were in line with his other positive scores on leadership.

The irony was not lost on him. He accepted the fact that the more he focused on his employees, the more they worked to benefit the company — and that benefited him.

It's an interesting equation: less me + more them = more success as a leader.

Keep this in mind the next time you find yourself resisting change because you are clinging to a false — and probably pointless — notion of "me."

Readers, please share any examples of how people can stereotype themselves — and ultimately limit their own effectiveness.

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