I grew up
in a tight, European household.
We were a
total of 7 living under one roof which included my
maternal grandparents. I was taught
many of the "old world" values where the collective
needs always came before the
individual. I was taught that a
family was not a summation of individuals, but rather an
entity unto itself. Boundaries were never
clear between "me" and "we".
say that I started life without a real clear sense of
myself, because it was intertwined with the needs and
expectations of my family and my extended communal
"colony" comprised of 50 other families who emigrated
together from Spain.
internal household reality was at odds with the external
world where I spent my childhood on Long Island, NY
during the '60s and '70s. Our country was
built on an individualistic spirit; one where we were
taught the importance of following your own passions,
purpose and dreams. A place where every
person can "do anything you set your sights
on." A place where our founding
fathers dreamt every individual could
family upbringing caused a conflict and struggle in me
relative to my outside world where individualism was the
order of the day. That struggle continued
well into my adult life, particularly in my working life
where I came face-to-face with the leadership challenges
of the seemingly-at-odd priorities of "we vs. me."
is no surprise that when I came across two articles
recently, that I had a strong reaction to their
messages. The first one was an
article by Bill Taylor "We
is bigger than me" where he states "the true measure of success is not
the value you create for yourself but the values that
define your work and how you lead and live."
happen to agree with his statement. To
lead your life effectively, you can't be completely
self-centered. You need to see the broader impact
Taylor goes on to say that "This is the age of the
maverick, the startup, and, dare I say it, as the
cofounder of Fast
"The Brand Called You." That is why
it's so easy to focus on the magazine covers, the IPO
wealth, the personal narratives."
What Taylor is missing here is that some of this
rugged individualism is required to ultimately connect
with the "We" which in this case is a target
a brand called YOU, means that you have understood the
intersection of your brilliance and core strengths with
the needs of your target to deliver on their
a Brand called YOU is the ultimate challenge of melding
the needs of "we and me", which requires you to step
outside of yourself to deliver on the needs of
others. This is the work of a business
second article by David Brooks "It's
not about you" (which Taylor references in his
article) reinforces the idea that as leaders we
need to "lose ourselves", in other words putting others
or the task at hand ahead of
ourselves. His message
was directed to new graduates, as they step into this
world, as newly minted leaders of their lives and
careers. Here are some of his
"...many graduates are told to:
Follow your passion, chart your
own course, march to the beat
of your own drummer,
follow your dreams and
find yourself. This is the litany of
expressive individualism, which is still the dominant
note in American culture. But, of course, this mantra
misleads on nearly every front.
grads enter a cultural climate that preaches the self as
the center of a life. But, of course, as they age,
they'll discover that the tasks of a life are at the
center." He concludes his article by
saying "The purpose of life is not to find
oneself. It is to lose
I agree that leadership is a maturation process and that
we ultimately do want to lose ourselves to the tasks of
life and the needs of others, what Brooks misses here is
that losing ourselves can only happen once we have a
strong foundation of self.
profound insight represents one of leadership's counter
intuitive truths: In
order to lose oneself completely, one has to know
have seen this in my own personal journey.
tension I felt between "we and me" can best be described
with a continuum. At one
extreme end of the continuum there is self-lessness
where the "we" rules at the expense of the
"me." We can see this in
repressed societies around the globe.
It is also where many women in our own society
can migrate when they feel the relentless expectations
to care for others at the expense of their own needs and
the other extreme of the spectrum is where I believe
Taylor and Brooks are advocating "losing oneself" to an
area that I call self-interest.
A self-interested person has a good sense of
themselves and is not threatened easily by
others. They are compassionate of
others but they can't be walked over
either. They are driven by a greater purpose,
something bigger than themselves.
a healthy self-interest is critical to effective
the center of the spectrum is where unfortunately, many
people reside and where leadership cannot flourish.
As infants we start here, after all we enter this
world with a need to survive and self-centeredness is
essential for survival. However, as adults
we need to move beyond
someone is overly self-centered, they usually don't have
a good sense of themselves, they are struggling to know
their place and role in life and are easily threatened
is about self preservation and hanging on to the status
quo while fighting heavily to maintain
individual and collective journeys are to move from
self-lessness and self-centeredness areas of the
spectrum to develop into healthy self-interest.
So, is losing oneself necessary
to get there? Yes, but certainly not
at the expense of eradicating "me"
that point, I would change Brooks' words to say that
"The purpose of life is not to find oneself. It is
to find oneself then give it away."
in one-on-one business coaching? Contact Laura for
and personalized coaching.
Lopez is an award-winning author of The
Connected and Committed Leader.
She is also a consultant, and a Birkman Method
certified business and life coach who has been featured
on the Today Show and Fox News.
In addition, her accomplishments have been
highlighted in several business periodicals
including Personal Excellence, The Long Beach
Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina
Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her
articles on management and leadership are regularly seen
in Leadership Excellence.
Laura can be contacted via her Web site at: