Tuesday, September 01, 2009

7 Common "Ego Traps" for Leaders: Trap #6

Ego Trap #6: "I work hard at what I do, and I deserve the financial rewards that come with it."

OK, that's true. No argument here. But something happens to some leaders around the issue of money & possessions...something that goes beyond a healthy sense of the value you bring as a leader. We've all seen it...with the leaders of Enron, for example, and other CEOs who've been caught money grabbing even when the thousands who work for them are losing their shirts. We've also seen it with some religious leaders, who milk followers for donations that ultimately go toward a yacht or a second home in the Bahamas. Something about money, or the love of it, ensnares the ego of some--and blinds them to the ludicrous hypocrisy that takes over their lives.

From the book, Heroic Leadership, I learned of a story that the Jesuits use in training their novices. The story is about three different men who each come into a huge windfall of money, and their subsequent reactions to the influx of such prodigious wealth. All three feel uncomfortable with their new status at first, but soon the money begins to intoxicate their desires and before long it begins to feel impossible for the men to imagine their life without the money. The first two men do little or nothing to try to rid themselves of the money that now has them in its grip. And, as this story is a lesson in piety, we expect the third man to deny the seduction of the money by giving it all away to the poor and rejoicing over his deliverance from the trap.

But he doesn't give the money to the poor. In fact, he doesn't get rid of the money at all. Instead, he gets rid of his attachment to it. He dies to self (ego) "in such a way that there remains no inclination either to keep the acquired money or to dispose of it."

The point of the parable? The money is not the issue. The attachment to it is.

The Jesuits call it cultivating an attitude of "indifference." I might also call it being "unattached" or "holding things loosely." I actually love the imagery conjured by the words: Free vs. Attached. I saw a movie recently, called Jumper, in which the main character could instantly transport anywhere in the world just by picturing the location in his mind. The only way to trap him was to physcially "attach" him to a huge structure, like a building--something that was too weighty for him to transport with him. He was literally held captive by the things he was attached to.

There's nothing inherently wrong with getting paid well for what you do, or enjoying the benefits of that wealth. But there is something very wrong with needing to be rich or using wealth as definitive proof that you are a success. If our culture has a dominant ego trap, this is it...which makes it the most difficult one for us to see in ourselves. So before we go pointing fingers at the rich and saying they're the problem, keep in mind that compared to the rest of the world, you are the rich. And besides, you don't have to be wealthy to be ruled by the love of money.

The Apostle Paul spoke about this trap in a letter he wrote to the church in Philippi:

"For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11-13).

I think Paul is describing what it looks like to live free...unattached to either riches or poverty, to either fame or obscurity. But in whatever circumstance, fully abandoned to God, who alone is the Source of true freedom.

"For if the Son will set you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:16).

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