Sometimes You Need to be a Bit Selfish

“To be successful you have to be selfish, or else you never achieve. And once you get to your highest level, then you have to be unselfish. Stay reachable. Stay in touch. Don't isolate.” – Michael Jordan

Selfishness is one of my pet hates, particularly when it’s combined with rudeness. Now that really gets my blood boiling!!! However, being selfish should be balanced with what needs to be done when striving for success as we’re sometimes required to be selfish on the way to being successful.

While that might sound like a contradiction, it isn’t. Let me explain. Tom was a player I was coaching in a basketball team. Now Tom was our best team player but very rarely scored. As such, the opposition didn’t pay Tom much respect or attention with Tom’s direct opponent frequently helping out his teammate to stop Jim who was our best player. In a sense, Tom’s unselfishness was making it harder for Jim which restricted our teams’ chances of beating the better teams.

I had a conversation with Tom on how he could be a better teammate by being a little bit more selfish and shoot the ball when he was open and in a better position than his teammates. It took Tom a while to grasp this concept because Tom’s natural inclination was to please others. Then it all seemed to click in an important game when Tom scored more points than he ever had while making it easier for Jim and the rest of his teammates to be effective as well. This one game saw Tom become an even more valuable member of the team.

I frequently see similar situations at work where members of a team inadvertently let their team down by:

·       Taking on additional tasks when they don’t have capacity and then missing deadlines on their most important work

·       Spectating instead of contributing during meetings

·       Inviting too many interruptions

How can we balance being selfish with being a good team member?

There’s a very fine balancing act in getting this right. The starting point I like to come back to is to ask: “What do you need to do to be successful?” The answer to this question will identify the key tasks that need to be planned and prioritised. It’s unlikely you’ll be successful without some singlemindedness in actioning these tasks.

We also need to make an allowance for supporting the team in general. A way to do this is to plan for proactive and reactive tasks. In other words, keep a percentage of your time available for the things you cannot plan for, but rule of thumb know you’ll need to get involved with each week.

A whole lot of selfish isn’t good for the culture of a team. However, a bit can be just the ingredient that enables the team to reach its potential.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.