The Tao reminds us to ‘govern without self-importance’. Are you self-important? I’m going to take a wild guess and say maybe you said ‘NO’ to that question. Right, and likewise no one thinks they are an asshole, and yet we have all these assholes running around. Let’s dig into what self-importance really means, how it shows up at work, and what we can do about it.
an exaggerated sense of one's own value or importance. "he was a big, blustering, opinionated cop, full of self-importance"
Feeding people’s importance lowers their armor. David Rock’s SCARF model for coaching suggests that we protect a person’s Status (the ‘S’ in SCARF) when they feel threatened. So making people feel important is good? Color me confused. We don’t want to create a world of self-importance, but we want to make people feel important so they don’t get upset? This is like giving your kid candy so they’ll eat a healthy dinner. OK, I’m guilty of that but let’s move on.
Status is the measure of success in our society. Sadly, we measure our success on our self-importance; corner office, title, car emblem, etc. Free yourself from this prison first, by letting go of the status symbols. Once you are free, you can open the door for other’s to follow.
What if your CEO drove a beat up economy sedan? What effect would this have on the rest of the company? I once heard an executive admit out-loud that they want their employees to buy expensive cars, houses, boats, and vacations so they become indentured servants to the company. And they actively fed it by talking about their own cars/houses/boats/vacations during meetings. Don’t fall for this trap!
Self-importance matters when you are under threat. Per David Rock’s SCARF model, status only matters when a person is under threat. Well, we must all be under constant threat because status and self-importance are really important to us. In fact, in a fear-based workplace we are all under threat.
Self-importance matters when you lack purpose. When our work lacks meaning and purpose, all we have is self-importance. Common wisdom tells us that job rotation is a great way to get promoted. I see them go from Marketing to Finance to Operations. I ask these folks ‘what are you passionate about?’ and the answer inevitably is ‘I care about getting promoted.’ They haven’t found their bliss, they are substituting self-importance for bliss.
Brain Twist. Pay attention today to times you find yourself thinking about your status. Are you feeling ‘better than’? ‘Less than?’ I worked daily on changing my self-talk as I got into my old jalopy. I had been feeling like my car needed an upgrade. Then I finally got to a place where I could see my crappy car as real, money saving, and just overall easier. See if you can change your self-talk around self-importance.