Personal recognition is something we’ve craved since childhood. You once strived for a medal at a track meet, and that ambition has transitioned into getting the corner office. Our egos feed off the applause, and we develop a laser focus on what we need to achieve. But like any ego-driven conquest, there’s a price to pay.
When this drive for personal recognition and success monopolizes your thoughts, it can distract you from doing important work that’s much bigger than you. Personal success breeds the need for more success. Soon, you’re trying to achieve your own ego-driven goals without considering the rest of your team—or your business.
This me-focused mindset can cause you to miss opportunities around you. When you think "we," on the other hand, you can set your sights on a bigger prize: what’s best for everyone instead of what’s best for you.
Here are five ways putting too much focus on your personal recognition and success can create obstacles:
Many leaders think they must have all the answers. Therefore, they associate learning with weakness. As a result, greater success only leads to greater pressure to show their accomplishments didn’t happen by chance. But the truth is you can’t know everything, especially in changing times.
Yes, you should use your knowledge and experience to your advantage, but you can’t adapt to new circumstances or changing business conditions without asking questions. The best leaders are naturally inquisitive and open to new ideas. They’re humble enough to ask questions, listen to others, and seek input on solving problems.
When I’m advising executives on leading change, I often ask about the last time they felt uncomfortable because they were learning something new by choice. Many confess that everyone expects them to have the answers to everything.
People like predictability and certainty, but wise leaders know when pretending to be certain about a new situation won’t help matters.
A major way knowing it all obstructs growth is by stopping innovation and new ideas from ever occurring. You’ll start to think the risk of failure is too great. Innovation thrives in environments where people feel comfortable exploring ideas and experimenting without the fear of negative consequences.
Think of it this way: You have to be wrong a lot to find the right solution to a problem—especially if it’s new and unfamiliar.
Innovation requires thinking bigger and thinking differently. If your measure of success is based only on your own personal achievements, you’ll miss what the business needs you to do or feel the risk is too great to take it on. Great entrepreneurs tell of countless failures before their ideas took off.
Gap International studied more than 500 successful executives between 2003 and 2014. They found more than 87% of them cited a clear focus on other people as a huge part of the genius behind their endeavors.
Take Richard Branson. The Virgin Group holds hundreds of companies, and while his success can be attributed to many qualities, his focus on others—his employees and customers—have led to astounding personal success.
Biotechnology researchers have proven people rely on their past experiences to make current decisions. Drawing from experience can be extremely helpful when you face familiar, complex situations with limited information—this is how you use your expertise. However, past successes can also blind you to new facts and information. The trick is to examine whether your current situation is really the same as a previous one.
You may be an industry expert, but if you’re dealing with new technology or a change in the market, your past answers may no longer fit. Despite your deep expertise, it’s critical to recognize that a new situation may not be solved with the same key you’ve used before.
There’s a direct correlation between the search for personal recognition and persistence. When you’re doing anything new and difficult, there will be resistance and failure. Yet when ego leads, failures, or setbacks become intensely personal. Rather than understand that a certain idea had limited interest at this time or that it wasn’t packaged well, you may jump to a very personal reaction. Assuming that people didn’t like you or your ideas makes it too hard to keep going.
We-focused people, on the other hand, concern themselves with the greater impact they want to achieve. They learn from the setback, recalibrate, and move forward. They’re driven by the end result. To them, setbacks are expected and managed, not viewed as closed doors.
Self-focused leaders make choices that maintain external measures of success. They stay in jobs that pay well, even though they’re miserable. They make short-term decisions that aren’t in the best interests of the organization, or the people who work there because they’ll lead to a higher bonus or personal gains.
For example, a leader I recently coached had achieved extraordinary success through external measures, yet he still felt unfulfilled. His real passion was educating others. He came to realize that while he wasn’t a teacher, he had a unique platform available from which to educate not only his team, but also his clients. He began to see his work differently, and to rewrite his own personal definition of success. More "we" than "me" fueled his change.
In terms of satisfaction, external measures are often short-lived. A salary increase or promotion will motivate you for a little while, but having a larger goal and purpose is more sustainable. The great thing about goals that focus on making a greater impact and improving the lives of others is that this success will benefit you, too.
Great leaders all want success. But keeping your eye on our success rather than just your success will make your business, organization, or community better.
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of PeopleResults, a change and organizational development consultancy she founded in 2004. She’s also the author of Make Waves: Be The One To Start Change At Work And In Life. She and her team advise clients, including PepsiCo, Microsoft, 7-Eleven, Accenture, and Frito-Lay, on creating positive change in their leaders and organizations. Follow Patti on Twitter at PattiBJohnson.