Tuesday, August 25, 2009

7 Common "Ego Traps" for Leaders: Trap #5

Ego Trap #5: "They like me! They really, really like me!"

"Don't confuse fame with success," wrote the late humorist Erma Bombeck, "Madonna is one; Helen Keller is the other." Wise advice. And yet, confusing fame and success has become a seductively easy trap to fall into these days, particularly for leaders, who too-often exchange their natural desire to influence others with an ego-driven craving for fame, and particularly in our culture, which has come to believe the ridiculous notion that popularity and significance actually amount to the same thing.

So it's seductive, this drive to be recognized, to be seen and admired, to be followed on Twitter or asked to speak or write or teach or preach or whatever it is you famously do for large groups of people you don't actually know, and who don't actually know you. Fame makes you feel smart, like you got something right. Curiously, it can even make you feel like you're making a difference...though fame in itself is no proof of that. Fame is attention, nothing more. And though it can be helpful in a good cause, it is not essential to greatness. Plenty of powerful and lasting good has been done in the world while nobody was looking.

Leaders who fall into this trap usually don't realize it's happening at first. Attention comes to them--who knows why? Fame is like weather, like wind, and just as fickle--and more and more people begin asking them things, inviting them to things, wanting to get near them, to hear them or see them or read their latest post, and they quite naturally begin to think that they have something special, and people see it, and want it. And they're quite right. They do have something special, and it is wonderful that people see it, and that it helps them in some way.

But then it happens. You move from appreciating the attention you are getting to wanting it. And then, craving it. You worry about losing it. You worry about getting more. At that point, your leadership stops being about anything other than you...but it's hard to admit that because you're out there "serving" so many people, bringing them what they want, what really helps them. But really, if you're honest, you see it. You're really not doing it for them--not primarily anyway. You're mostly just serving your ego.

Fame is a drug to the ego, an addictive one at that, and if you let your ego get hooked by it, it will eventually hollow out your soul. That doesn't at all mean that I think no one should ever be famous, or leverage what fame they have in service of the world. But I do think any leader would be a fool not to take a long hard look at what's really driving them to "reach a larger audience," and to always be mindful that the ego is brilliant at hiding its true motives behind altruistic smokescreens.


Michelle Brown said...

If fame is such a wonderful thing then, one would think, Hollywood wouldn't have the drug/alcohol/relational troubles for which it's notorious.

FWIW: The word glamour (which might be a cousin to fame) has "a magic spell; enchantment" as one of its definitions. Seems there might be a clue there.

Just sayin'. :-)

roadkills-r-us said...

I've been thinking about related issues a lot. The Church, for instance, needs leaders who are less in the public eye, and especially less concerned with the public eye. How many movements rise to chase a leader, then fall apart without the famous one? A good leader will enable more leaders, and it will not depend on them. Instead, for the most part we get leaders who become at best ineffective, and at worst scandalous (or downright heretical) as the fame builds.

And not just the Church. Who was the last. two term President of the US who didn't seem really worried about his legacy his last couple of years in office? A legacy should be something that just happens. If you have to focus on it, it's just another word for fame.