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Selfishly Speaking



We think we want only employees who will put aside everything to achieve goals on behalf of the team and those who will inspire greater performance from the rest of the team. And we do want all of those qualities, but we’re looking for love in all the wrong places (with apologies to country singer Johnny Lee).

As organization leaders, we seem to think we need to find the truly selfless employee, forgetting that such a person doesn’t really exist. Yet if we look instead for selfish employees, we might be able to find today’s valuable team members and tomorrow’s leadership. How’s that?

A common misperception suggests a selfish person makes for an unmanageable employee. After all, selfish individuals are only in it for themselves. Won’t this individual destroy the team dynamic that administrators in K-12 education strive to create within their school districts?

Rather, we seek the “all for one and one for all” mentality. We truly want the “rah-rah, go team” imbued throughout our organization. We love to repeat the mantra that “there’s no I in team.”

Motivating Drivers
What we overlook is that while there may not be an I in team, there is a “me.” Organizations that don’t pay positive attention to the me-oriented employees do so at their own peril. They miss the opportunity to gain highly self-motivated team members whose work results will significantly benefit the group. The selfish employee actually can be the hardest-working member of the team.

At the same time, we need to distinguish between the selfish employee and the obstinate employee. Selfish employees are seeking satisfaction of their personal drivers, willing to accomplish what’s needed and even go beyond in their personal driver satisfaction efforts. Selfish employees, rather than being obstinate or insubordinate, are focused on attaining personal goals. By providing the path to this satisfaction, an employer can harness this selfish motivation for the greater good of the organization.

Of course, senior management and team leaders must be truly motivated, as well. This is especially true in our school systems. Education leaders today have more tools, more technology and more pressure to produce tomorrow’s educated workforce and citizens. But it remains a people proposition. Motivating a team necessarily means motivated leaders. If the leaders are motivated, it is much easier to motivate the team, and vice versa.

An education organization is also a community. The community relies on a diverse array of input from its members and the able direction of its leaders. As a leader in this community, one of your primary tasks is building a motivated team. This is not a static task, but a continuing activity with endless iterations. Without constant attention and nurturing, today’s motivated team can easily be tomorrow’s disillusioned crew.

However, motivation doesn’t exist in a vacuum, nor is it isolated or coincidental. The progressive organization leader understands that motivation is created and harnessed through careful delivery of personal drivers — in other words, being able to deliver on each team member’s personal return on investment.

A grand bargain must be made with all team members. In exchange for their active personal investment, manifested by cooperation, participation and contribution, you will provide to them a personal return. The key is to understand the nature of those personal returns.

For some it may be public recognition, enhanced status within the school, promotion opportunities, or even just an easier or more efficient way to accomplish everyday tasks. There may be more than one return for an individual, and there may be other forms of returns. Either way, it behooves the attentive and progressive team leader to deliver.

Common Mistake
While employers give significant credence to the team-oriented worker, they frequently overlook the value of the selfish employee. This is a common mistake. While team-oriented employees ostensibly operate for the greater good, they ignore their own personal drivers. It is likely their motivation levels will drop off.

Selfish employees are motivated by their own personal drivers. Satisfy those drivers and deliver on the personal return on investment. That employee will continue to deliver with a high level of self-motivation.

Moe Glenner is the founder and president of PURELogistics in South Bend, Ind. E-mail: moe@moeglenner.com. He is the author of Selfish Altruism: Managing & Executing Successful Change Initiatives. 


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