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Women: The virtues of selfishness will help advance your career

Kieran Flanagan CCO, Speaker and Author of Selfish, Scared and Stupid The Impossible Institute
Women: The virtues of selfishness will help advance your career

Selfishness is one of those words that connotes all sorts of negative things. Usually of a spoiled, self-centred person with no concept of reality or of anyone else. But to be fair, selfishness does have many virtues that we seldom acknowledge. Being selfish is a natural human trait. In fact, it is one of the reasons we not only survived but thrived as a species. It means we looked out for ourselves and our own and hey, we are all here today because of it.

Selfishness also motivates human beings to get things done. We are all driven by what’s in it for me. Even those ?selfless’ things we do are not quite so selfless if you scratch the veneer of generosity. When we do something kind we get to feel successful, worthwhile, and meaningful.

Even the stereotypical mother putting herself last is still acting out of selfishness. She gets to have her need to be a nurturer, to feel as though she is doing a good job, to reinforce to herself how much she values her children and so on. And there is nothing wrong with that, it is perfectly natural.

What we need to learn to do is to embrace our selfishness and see what we get out of every scenario, but even more importantly, we need to learn to embrace the selfishness of others. Our ability to see the world in terms of what’s in it for them is powerful in helping women (and all of us) become better and more successful in business.


Do think selfishly (versus acting selfishly)

Everyone is selfish (and that’s okay), it is simply how we are wired. We are built to look out for ourselves and our own first and foremost. It’s an important survival skill. Beyond surviving there has to always be something in it for us. Even charitable acts and generosity have something in it for those instigating them; pride, a sense of worth, happiness, a sense of feeling needed, capable and important and the list goes on. Knowing this is highly useful in business and we need to stop seeing things only from what’s in it for us and shift our focus to what’s in it for them.

Do talk about what’s in it for men

The female in leadership debate is often had amongst us ladies or if we are talking to men it is about how unfair things are. The statistics thrown about are usually negative and point out the inequality of it all. While these numbers need to be understood and shared, they alone are not motivating enough. We need to learn to sell the benefits of women in leadership rather than the injustice of not. In other words, we need to use people’s selfishness not try and challenge it.

Do focus on why it’s better for business

Thinking selfish is about building better businesses. It’s about learning to see things from other peoples points of view and making sure there is something in it for them when it comes to having more women at the top. Having women in leadership roles is vital for gaining alternative perspectives. Various studies all over the world show that businesses with women on their boards outperform those without. In fact, having diversity, both men and women, of differing beliefs, backgrounds and opinions is vital for building better functioning businesses.

Do work with who you are

We need to work with who we are, not who we wish we were. It is wonderful and noble that we wish to improve and grow, but too often we waste energy on “if only”. This energy would be better spent on “if I.” If only my family carried their shoes upstairs is something I could think every day, or I could work with who they are and say if I built a shoe cabinet right at the front door the shoes would be out of the way – with no special effort required!

So the next time you think, “There is something wrong with me!” Remember, you’re right. What’s wrong is, thinking that everything about you needs to change in order for you to succeed. That is simply a misleading path that won’t lead you down the road of success or happiness. Consider your innate strengths--who you are naturally--and use that to catapult your growth.


Do not expect it because it is right or the nice thing to do

Being nice and doing the right thing are not very motivating to human beings. We like to think we simply do the right thing or the good thing (and occasionally we do). But we tend to do things more because of how they make us feel, rather than how they make others feel. So we need to make sure promoting women in business makes the people doing it feel good.

Do not spend too much time talking

If we want to understand what’s in it for your employees or other people you work with, we need to stop talking all about what’s in it for us. In sales (and we are all in sales in some form) the sale is always in the person you are selling to. Yet we spend so much time telling people what we have to offer versus listening for what they need and want to receive. Spend more time listening to what they need and less time talking about what you need.

Do not be a martyr

Don’t say ?it’s ok’ when it is not. Don’t step back and then moan that you were overlooked. Know what you want and be clear about it. You don’t have to become Bosszilla, you just need to become open about your agenda.

Do not presume men don’t want work-life balance too

Women in business (especially mothers) are asking how we balance work demands and the demands of life in general, but so are a lot of men too. With the rise of technology we are all blending our work lives and our home lives and asking how we can make it all work. So a better question for us all is how do we create work life congruence versus work life balance.

Jumping cartoon

Thinking selfish in business is not about acting selfish. (After all, us human beings have got the whole selfish thing mastered). It’s about learning to see things from other people points of view. It is about learning to sell the benefits of having females in leadership roles rather than promoting it as the ?right’ thing to do. History has proven repeatedly that rIght does not always win. What wins is what is popular and what is popular is usually the thing that has the most in it for the majority. So we need to start harnessing selfish and start selling the benefits of females in business, but even more importantly true diversity.

It is when we use the selfishness of ourselves and others that we create messages, products and businesses that work, that people willingly want to engage with. That is the virtue of selfish.

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Photo Credits: Amy Dunn/; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas -

Kieran FlanaganCCO, Speaker and Author of Selfish, Scared and Stupid

Few people understand what makes people ?buy’ or ?buy in’ better than Kieran Flanagan. For over twenty years, Kieran Flanagan has been a transformational leader in the creative industries. A Behavioral Researcher & Strategist, she is an auth...

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