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The Anatomy of Selflessness – an Excerpt from The Mind of a Leader

“The Mind of the Leader” offers a radical, yet practical, solution. To solve the leadership crisis, organizations need to put people at the center of their strategy. They need to develop managers and executives who lead with three core mental qualities: mindfulness, selflessness, and compassion. Using real-world inspirational examples from Marriott, Accenture, McKinsey & Company, LinkedIn, and many more, “The Mind of the Leader” shows how this new kind of leadership turns conventional leadership thinking upside down. It represents a radical redefinition of what it takes to be an effective leader–and a practical, hard-nosed solution to every organization’s engagement and execution problems. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Selflessness is the wisdom of getting out of your own way, the way of your people, and the way of your organization to unleash the natural flow of energy that people bring to work. Selflessness combines strong self-confidence with a humble intention to be of service. With selflessness, trust increases because we have no secret agendas and followership strengthens because our selflessness sets free our people to be their best selves. Selflessness in leadership manifests itself as humility and service.
In Good to Great , Jim Collins showed that humility combined with strong will is a key trait of successful leaders. Humility, his research found, is when leaders are able to keep their egos in check and always put the organization’s goals before their own.  Humility is a trait of selflessness where we’re not attached to an inflated, important sense of self: we have a very real view on how little we actually matter. In the bigger scheme of things, even the best CEO is only one out of hundreds or thousands of individuals contributing to a company’s success. In addition, the company’s success is heavily determined by market trends and large- scale global forces. Any company is merely the result of an interconnected, global field of events, actions, and intentions. There’s no one person who can create this singlehandedly— not even the greatest leader. Understanding this awakens a healthy sense of humility.
Humility allows leaders to understand the value of providing service—a legacy, if you will— to the organization. That is what creates a healthy culture and what creates an organization that can continue from generation to generation. Arne Sorenson, CEO of the hotel chain Marriott, described his role as being a function of service to the company’s 400,000 employees. The driving business philosophy of Marriott is to take care of their employees, so that their employees take care of their guests. That way, business takes care of itself. Arne’s role is not one of power but one of service.
But what about the ego? What’s the role of the ego in selfless leadership? It’s small. We all have an ego that longs for attention and recognition. But great leaders are the ones who’ve tamed their ego so that it doesn’t hinder the larger interests of the people and the company they lead.
Indeed, corporate history is full of great examples of the danger of self-centeredness. Consider Nokia’s fall from industry leadership in cell phones. Nokia was the global market leader in cell phones when Apple introduced the iPhone, a much more sophisticated, yet simple and compelling product. However, the then- CEO of Nokia announced to his entire organization that the iPhone would never be anything but a niche product, and that Nokia would keep producing the phones with which they had gained their success. A few years later, Nokia had fallen into market insignificance, and Apple was the leader.
It wasn’t because Nokia engineers and developers didn’t have good ideas or recognize the shifts in consumer demands. The problem came down to leadership and, specifically, the former CEO’s emotional and ego attachment to what had made him and the company successful. He and his leadership team had fallen in love with Nokia’s past success and created a self- image of success based on that. Because they were not able to let go of this image, they lost major market share almost overnight.
Many of the leaders we’ve talked to worry that selflessness will make them pushovers. But it’s not that simple. A leader’s selflessness has to be combined with self-confidence. If you have selflessness without self-confidence, you will indeed be a pushover. Therefore, selflessness cannot stand on its own. It must be paired with self-confidence.

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