I’ve worked with a few leaders who tend to huff, puff and become frustrated and angry when things don’t go their way. I believe that taking yourself too seriously is a major contributor to this problem.
It’s normal to be absorbed with your own priorities and goals, but it becomes a problem when it becomes an ongoing pattern.
Leaders can take themselves too seriously in many different ways, which I’ll take a look at in this article. I’ve been guilty of some of these in the past, and you might find you have too!
If You Only Remember One Rule, Remember Rule #6
One of my favourite pieces of advice comes from the conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, Ben Zander. He and his partner Rosamund Stone Zander wrote an excellent book which I recommend checking out, called The Art of Possibility.
Some of the advice that they give in this book is simple. “Remember Rule #6”.
What is Rule #6? It is also simple “Don’t take yourself so seriously”.
There are no other rules, just #6. You can watch Ben Zander tell the story about Rule #6 below.
Personally, I find this rule to be a tremendous reminder when I start to become absorbed in my work or the goals I want to achieve.
This rule is a fantastic thing to remember in leadership. Instead of becoming wrapped up in your seniority, authority or power, it can be a helpful way to bring you back down to earth and to stop taking yourself too seriously.
Learn More: Is Your Ego Damaging Your Leadership?
My Experience Taking Myself Too Seriously
There was a time in my career where I noticed myself starting to take myself too seriously. I was working as a management consultant at a big international organisation.
We were working on big projects, working with the senior partners and directors of the firm. I remember it feeling “significant”, like we were involved in doing great things and making big changes.
I noticed myself starting to think myself better than some other people. People who were doing “lesser” work that wasn’t as prestigious as the work I was doing. I bought into the prestige and started to feel as if I needed to live up to some sort of image.
Of course, it was all an illusion and a simple matter of perspective. Luckily, my mindset changed when I burned myself out working on these “significant” projects.
Now, I try not to take myself too seriously.
Learn More: Lessons Learnt From Career Burnout.
Common Ways That Leaders Take Themselves Too Seriously
Here are some of the common ways that you might be taking yourself too seriously. And remember, you don’t have to be an egomaniac or power-hungry leader to fall into these traps!
1. You Might Be Taking Yourself Too Seriously If You Demand Respect
Respect is important for a leader. After all, it’s hard for people to follow somebody they don’t respect.
However, leaders can become wrapped up in *demanding* to be respected. Sometimes, we think that because we’re the boss, we should be respected automatically.
Unfortunately, this isn’t true. People might do what you say because you’re the boss. However, without respect, you might find your people may stop speaking up or failing to help when you need it.
Respect needs to be earned, and it usually happens by doing the right thing by your people, and building trust through small positive actions over time.
If you expect respect without taking the time to earn it, you might be taking yourself too seriously.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #132: Would You Rather Be Liked or Respected?
2. You Might Be Taking Yourself Too Seriously When You Need to Be “In the Room”
Sometimes leaders become preoccupied with being involved. They want to oversee everything and make sure they’re part of every decision.
While it’s important for a leader to have oversight, this can go too far.
I’ve seen leaders delegate a task or project to a team member and still attend every meeting relating to the project so they “know what’s going on”.
This is a big red flag that you might be taking yourself too seriously.
You have such amazing insight and knowledge that you need to be involved in everything? Sounds like someone might think a little too much of themselves.
Could it be that you lack trust in your people, feel insecure and crave control instead?
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #78: Want to Feel More In Control of Your Team? Try Letting Go.
3. You Might Be Taking Yourself Too Seriously When You Believe Your Goals Are Bigger Than Everyone Else’s
It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own goals and aspirations. We might be aiming for that big promotion, or trying to deliver that project that will get us noticed.
It’s easy to start taking yourself too seriously when you consume yourself with only your own business.
We start to believe that our project is more important than other initiatives. That our people are more important than other teams.
The reality is that there are other competing priorities out there, and not everyone thinks about your goals as much as you do. It might be worth having a conversation to find out what’s on everyone else’s mind, before concluding that yours is the top priority.
4. You Might Be Taking Yourself Too Seriously When You Are Afraid of Looking Bad
Nobody really likes to fail, but it is a necessary part of learning and getting better. Nobody likes to look bad either – it’s uncomfortable.
I see a lot of articles that say we need to become comfortable with failure, but I still don’t see failure being well tolerated in many organisations or by the majority of leaders.
If you fear failure because of what other people might think, or for what your team will think of you, you may be holding yourself back. You may be taking yourself too seriously, by believing that someone in your leadership position can’t possibly be seen to be making a mistake!
Feeling as if you need to have all the answers, have planned for every possibility or need to be stoic, heroic and unflappable are all examples of being afraid to look bad.
We’re all human. If you make a mistake, work out what went wrong and improve for next time.
It’s important not to try to lead based solely on what others think of us. It’s impossible to please everybody or create a positive perception all the time.
Taking Yourself Too Seriously Can Set You Up For Failure
When we take ourselves too seriously as leaders, we set ourselves up for a fall.
We build ourselves up, or try to hide our flaws, believing we’re more important than we really are. This is when we are at our most vulnerable if something happens to go wrong.
On the other hand, when we can lead with humility, grace, a sense of humour, safe in the knowledge that we’re human just like everyone else, things become that little bit easier.
The pressure eases. We can fail, because we never built ourselves up to be invincible in the first place.
Others start to see us as people, not the traditional self-reliant, stoic leaders of old. People often relate to people who show their vulnerability from time to time, because they notice it in themselves.
Let’s remember Rule #6, and stop taking ourselves so seriously. You never know, your people might respect you more for it.
Have you been guilty of taking yourself too seriously in the past? Share your stories with me and all the thoughtful leaders in the comments below!
Hi Ben ;
Your articles are very realistic and used as a stepping stone for every charismatic leaders .
Thank you so so much
You are welcome Prabha, thanks for reading,