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Selfish People Don’t Get Respect or Trust

Selflessness - Putting the needs of others before our own needs, desires or convenience.

Marty didn’t know it, but nobody wanted to follow him. He was not a bad guy. He had talent. He knew the business. He could make us laugh and tell a great story. Unfortunately, when it came to his ability to influence people, he was a failure. People didn’t respect him. They didn’t really trust him. They merely tolerated him being their leader.

Marty missed a key lesson in leadership – people pay more attention to what you do than what you say. Marty read a lot of books on leadership, but he must have skipped the chapters that talked about service. There was no doubt Marty believed in service. But there was also no doubt that he believed we were all there to serve him, his goals, and his reputation.

We often say that people don’t follow us because of what we can do. They follow us because of who we are. Who we are is revealed in our habits. And those habits become apparent during stressful times.

We all knew who Marty was because when the going got tough, Marty became selfish. He would get angry and complain about other people. He would worry about how other people saw him. When things were going well, he talked about “his team”. When things were hard, he talked about “them”. For Marty, we were the means to his ends. We were the tools that he was going to use to accomplish his goals. As a result, he had people who complied with his wishes, but none of us were committed to his leadership.

Marty never really spent much time in the winner’s circle at work. He would have a good quarter or even a good year, but his career was characterized by mediocre performances and unmotivated teams.

A selfish leader, a selfish teammate, a selfish spouse, or a selfish parent will never inspire commitment from the people around them. It is easy to see when the leader is in it for themselves and makes it “all about me.” A selfish leader may get results, but they do not inspire commitment. The short term metrics may seem impressive, but their legacy is forgotten by the people they led.

It’s been a while since I worked with Marty. But I do keep in touch with a few other people from that team. We don’t talk about his talent, his business acumen or his sense of humor. Most of our memories include us shaking our heads and being thankful we are no longer working for him. He was selfish and demonstrated that he didn’t care about anyone but himself. We were uninspired by who he was.

The lesson for all leaders: Are the people there for us or are we there for them? We all may know what our answer should be. But do our words and our actions prove we believe it? What do our habits and our choices prove to the people we are called to lead?

Very few of us would want to follow Marty. But the question we should all ask ourselves is, “Would you follow you?”

Dig Deep Questions:

● Have you ever met a selfish person that you also trusted?

● How does a leader prove to you that he/she is there for those they lead?


Exercising Selflessness takes work and is a lifelong journey. We want to partner with you as you practice the habit of Selflessness daily, which is why we have created FREE tools and resources to guide your journey.

To make it easy to keep the definition of Selflessness visible on your screens and devices, we would like to share our FREE Selflessness backgrounds for desktop and mobile available for download at:

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