Does this situation sound familiar to you?
You work with someone who is exhausting. From the moment a conversation starts to the moment it ends, the focus is 90% on them. Their issues, their frustrations, their needs. I have experienced this over and over at companies, but this story stands out the most:
A colleague over 15 years ago was introduced to me as being a new co-leader for a 20-person cross functional team. After the initial 2 minutes of introduction, she immediately went into “me first” mode by talking about the hours she kept and the reasons why and why she always needed to leave the office at 4 pm, not 4:30 pm, and not 4:10 pm “even if the building was on fire and employees were trying to put it out”. At the time, I was jarred by the proclamations. After working with her, however, I could see her strengths of being a disciplinarian on timing and tasks and had her successfully tackle some of the routine weekly management needs for the team. When I left the organization a year later for a new job, this colleague only lasted 3 months before being fired. Why? Others couldn’t see past her “me first” shortcomings enough to justify her strengths.
At almost every company you’ll find people that match this profile. Sometimes they succeed for a short period of time. Sometimes they are in leadership roles. But unless the culture rewards this type of “me first” behavior, they almost always flame out. The more interesting part is when they do implode, there is always a sense of the company being “a mess” or “a poor work environment”, etc. and never a sense of their role in the demise.
-- Ken Giffin
Contrast that with leaders and employees who thrive in larger organizations and you will almost always find a flavor of directly tying the needs of the department or team with their own personal focus.
Some may liken this latter approach to being a “yes” person. I would argue though that it is much more about being focused on success first and thinking of how people can best fit into that success. There is a clear difference.
Try this as a test: Attend a meeting with a group of at least 5 or more colleagues and see who is putting themselves first (listen for “I” statements, personal preferences and dominating opinions) and who is putting the team first (listen for questions, “we” statements and opinions with openness to response). Then assess where these people fit in the overall company in terms of success.
Then after you complete the exercise, think about your own behaviors and which side of the equation you fall. It could be a moment of enlightenment!