Leaving Self-Centeredness Behind


Selfishness is a limiting factor in the lives of leaders. Reaching new levels of influence requires self-transcendence, or living beyond yourself.

Forty-five years ago, on July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin accomplished a feat considered impossible for much of human history. Escaping the gravitational pull of the earth, and soaring beyond its atmosphere, they were the first persons to set foot on the moon. Their successful mission was the crowning achievement of NASA’s space program.

NASA’s vision statement, “We reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind,” expresses the human longing to overcome limitations and to explore new frontiers. Fictionally, this sentiment is encapsulated in the Starship Enterprise’s mission, “to boldly go where no man has gone before” or even more succinctly, in the motto of Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear: “to infinity and beyond!”

Similar to space explorers, leaders desire to expand the frontiers of their industry, to reach higher levels of influence, and to go beyond what has been previously accomplished. For them, the primary challenge isn’t defying gravity but denying the self. Journeying to significance means going beyond the limitations of self-interest by way of servanthood.

Going Beyond Yourself Means…

1) Seeing Beyond Yourself
“A person starts to live when he can live outside himself.” ~ Albert Einstein
People who fail to “see beyond themselves” are usually selfish, insecure, or both. They’re hyper-focused on personal advancement, persuaded the world owes them a living, and convinced that they are indispensible to the fortunes of their team. They stand in sharp contrast to leaders who seek to understand the diverse perspectives of others, see the needs of people around them, and realize that success means sowing seeds that benefit others.

2) Growing Beyond Yourself
“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.” — Ghandi

Growing beyond your present capacities starts by discovering your purpose, clarifying your priorities, and getting passionate about life. It continues by learning from others who can do more than you can do. Seek out experts and admirable leaders and ask them for advice and mentorship. The fastest way to get better is to hang around with better people! 

3) Giving Beyond Yourself
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘what are we doing for others?’” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our leadership takes off when, instead of recruiting people to our cause, we invest ourselves in their development. We have to give to others before we can expect to reap their support.

4) Gathering Beyond Yourself
Leaders don’t necessarily gather the people they want; they attract the people most like themselves. To surround yourself with great people, you need to work at becoming a great person. Self-development precedes team formation.

Aside from that, a leader has to offer others a vision that 1) compellingly solves a significant problem 2) expresses a sense of urgency 3) is bigger than any one person 4) is connected to a realistic strategy 5) is infused with passion. Even so, people won’t stick with the vision unless you stand by them—supporting their needs, empowering them with responsibility, and sharing the credit for success.

Question to Consider
Selfishness is a limiting factor in the lives of leaders. Reaching new levels of influence requires self-transcendence, or living beyond yourself. How has learning to “go beyond yourself” expanded your ability to lead?


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