Leadership: Genuine Service or Ego?

For about a year, I considered applying for a position on the board of a local non-profit organization whose mission I believe in deeply. I felt that my education, skills, and experience would help them. Eventually, I approached one of the board members and expressed my interest. I was excited at the prospect of being involved in good work; I could not stop talking about it. Two of my friends called board members to express their support for my involvement. Here was my chance to engage in community leadership and to honor my belief in the value of service. T he eagerly awaited call finally came. To my surprise and disappointment the caller said, “Well, we’re not sure you’re what we need on the board at this time.” There was more to the conversation but that sentence was all I heard. My heart sank. I felt a knot in my stomach. For two days, my emotions bounced from sadness to anger to frustration. I knew this organization was in need of board members. I was offering my time and energy. How could they not want me? I am not pleased to admit that I found myself planning to withdraw the donation I had pledged to them. I began to plot my revenge.

Then it hit me.

My sadness and disappointment over the rejection of my application hijacked my good intentions. I stepped out of leadership. One minute I said I supported the organization’s mission. I wanted to help lead it into the future. The next minute I was ready to bring the organization down because of my wounded pride, my deflated ego. I made the prospective board membership about my ego rather than about the organization’s best interest.

Leadership is about service. It is about being a part of something bigger than we are. It is about contributing to the world around us. Leadership requires us to offer the best of ourselves to solve the problems we find in that world. Such leadership can and should be personally rewarding. When we make it about looking good, impressing others or meeting some ego-driven need, however, we serve an individual agenda. Thus, we fail to serve the common good. We risk undermining the good we want to do.

A word of caution: effective leadership does not require us to lose ourselves in service. A call to service is not a call to martyrdom. Leadership in the name of service requires that we take care of ourselves — but that is a topic for another article.

• Think of your various leadership roles.
• Which of these roles do you perform in the name of service?
• Are there cases where you ought to check your ego?

If the answer to the last question is yes, do not abandon the leadership role. Step back and consider what you want to accomplish. Re-align yourself with your original good intention. Trust that you will know the best way to proceed once you have your ego in check.