Good day, team.
This past week, an article I read in The New York Times by David Brooks got me thinking about self-orientation. The piece was about Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriquez and how, over the years, he has become more and more preoccupied with himself and his image. This week’s challenge looks at how this type of self-orientation can separate a person from his or her team, friends and family. These folks become the center of their own universe and forget that anyone else is around.
Self-preoccupation didn’t happen to Rodriguez naturally. It happened after promoters, agents and owners saw a rare talent and the money it could generate. Here’s part of what Brooks wrote:
“Rodriguez was a baseball prodigy from his earliest years. He batted an insane .505 his senior year in high school and had as many as 100 scouts at every game. When he was drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners, he hired the super agent Scott Boras, who damaged whatever chances Rodriguez had of becoming a normal human being.
“Boras turned him into a corporate entity. In her book, ‘A-Rod,’ Selena Roberts reported that in the middle of his first contract negotiations, Boras had Rodriguez read a statement accusing the Mariners of being ‘low class.’ In other words, he was told to attack his first organization in order to squeeze a few dollars out of them. From the beginning, Rodriguez’s preoccupation was not with team, it was with self.
“By the time Rodriguez became a free agent, he was the marketing facade of A-Rod Inc. When negotiating with the New York Mets, Rodriguez’s handlers asked for the use of a private jet, a special hotel suite when on the road and a personal marketing staff. By the tine he reached the Texas Rangers, according to Roberts, a clubhouse attendant was required to put a dab of toothpaste on his toothbrush before every game.”
All of this led to an overly inflated ego that is insatiable in its quest for more and more attention. At the same time, Rodriguez has become overly sensitive to that attention. Ironically, the very special talents that lead him down this road are now threatened by his inability to deal with them. He has developed a reputation for caring more about his personal statistics than his team winning.
How does this happen to people? How do people become so overly concerned with their own performance, their own status (such as job titles and how high up they are on an organizational chart), their own ideas and even their own daily lives that they separate themselves and lose their ability to connect with others?
Like Rodriquez, many people with special talents get targeted by others who want to turn them into superstars. The great injustice is that once they become stars, it’s harder to relate to the team or the family. This alienation makes it more difficult to access their special talents, and the constant preoccupation with themselves continues to separate them. Being special can be a lonely place, and we often see superstars turn to drugs and alcohol to numb that feeling of being disconnected and alone.
As Brooks so aptly put it:
“My theory would be that self-preoccupied people have trouble seeing that their natural abilities come from outside themselves and can only be developed when directed toward something else outside themselves. Enclosed in self, they come to believe that their talents come from self, are the self. They have no outside criteria that tell them what their talents are for or when they are sufficient. Locked in a cycle of insecurity and attempted self-validation, their talents are never enough, and they end up devouring what they have been given.”
In the work environment, it’s difficult to trust people who constantly frame events in relation to how they affect them personally rather than how they affect the overall team. They are so self-oriented that we can’t trust them to be there for us when we need them. Part of good teamwork is sacrificing our own gains so that the team wins in the end. And part of belonging to the whole is knowing that we are only one part of that whole and not the entire thing.
This week, try to witness your own level of self-orientation. Are your unique talents and experience balanced with the talents of others on the team? Do you find that you dominate meetings by showcasing your talents? Do you give others the space to showcase theirs? How much time do you spend thinking about yourself during the day? Do you interpret almost all situations from the perspective of how this affects you rather than the broader view of the team? Do you compete with your peers to be the fastest, smartest, most creative and innovative, or most powerful? Do you throw others under the bus to gain the most advantage?
Each of us has sense of self. That self is often defined by the world around us and the people with whom we have the most interactions. As we age and acquire more wisdom, we see that these definitions may be pretty good when it comes to describing how we show up in the world, but they don’t really define our true selves at all. How we appear to others becomes less important. Rather than allow others to define whether we’re good or successful or special, we eventually learn to access our true selves. When we are in touch with our true self, we can more readily share ourselves with others. We revel in a sense of belonging and naturally desire to be true to what’s important to the group overall. When we alienate ourselves, we ultimately suffer. When we become overly preoccupied with our own concerns, our ability to embrace other people disappears.
People who have healthy self-esteem naturally value other people’s sense of self as well. Kindness and consideration of others predominates. These people consider what their team members need to be more successful. They encourage their team to be more considerate of other teams within the company, knowing that if they all win, the company wins. They think of ways to step back to allow others to shine.
Try experimenting with your self-orientation this week by intentionally putting yourself in your teammates’ shoes. What’s challenging for them and how can you help? How are they feeling about the project and what does it look like from their perspective? How can you reach beyond your own concerns to help a family member or friend?
William B. Given, Jr., the famous business author wrote:
“Whenever you are too selfishly looking out for your own interest, you have only one person working for you — yourself. When you help a dozen other people with their problems, you have a dozen people working with you.”
Have a good week!
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