Is Self-Interest Our Problem?
Business schools have a problem, say two business school professors.
“Detached, third person leadership, no matter how well it follows the sage advice of those who teach how to lead, does not produce the results we want and need,” says TCU Business School Professor Larry Peter. “It’s not the mechanics. It’s the person! Change me first! The message is so simple, so powerful.”
“Most professional schools claim to teach leadership but totally ignore the engine of leadership: the internalized commitment to moral power that makes influence transformational,” writes Professor Robert E. Quinn in his terrific book on leadership, The Deep Change Field Guide.
What stands in the way?
Every organization, group, and relationship is subject to the problem of self-interest, Robert writes. True leadership involves pursuing the overall good of the organization. Companies thrive when leaders inspire others to transcend their own self-interest.
And, problems ensue when no one is willing to sacrifice for the common good.
Traditionally, work has been seen as a place of self-interested, transactional exchange. We prioritize our job and career safety. Work is characterized by self-concern, routine, conformity, and hypocrisy.
There is a better way.
Which involves placing the overall organization’s interests above our personal survival. Doing so requires courage. Demonstrating this type of courage then inspires others.
Organizational transformation is about increased collective virtue. The transformational leader works to constantly increase the integrity of both the self and the organization.
To be a true leader, Larry believes: “We need to care more about what is right, what is effective, what is moral, and what can’t be denied any longer, than we care about our personal well-being. We need to step out of the transactional reality we seem trapped in to find something worth dying for and worth living for! That is the essence of leadership. Its passion and commitment for a cause. It’s caring more about one’s mission or vision or people, or justice than about one’s self.”
Reflection: What role does self-interest play inside my organization? Or, for me?
Action: Journal about the role of self-interest in my life.