Marshall Goldsmith blog - Need to be Me

How the “Need to Be Me” Hinders Success

14 Nov 2019

“That’s just the way I am!”

Have you heard this phrase from an executive when you pointed out a certain behavior that might serve him or her but is hurting others?

The Need to be Me

Leaders, like everyone else, have formed a solid definition of who they are over their lifetime. The positive and the negative things that they hear from themselves and others contribute to this definition. At some point, executives might rationalize almost any behavior by saying, “That’s just the way I am!” As you can imagine, this makes behavioral change and your job as an executive coach a challenge.

Consider this real-life example of a CEO who received feedback that he was giving too little positive recognition to his team. He excused his behavior by mentioning his high standards and how giving too much praise would undermine its value. Were those legitimate reasons for not recognizing his team when they deserved it? No, of course not! It was ultimately hurting his results by demoralizing the team and demotivating them to do their best work.

As one of our coaches finally uncovered, the CEO’s real rationale was that “it wouldn’t be ‘me’ to give praise.” Once he realized that his “need to be me” was hurting his employees’ and his own chances for success, he was able to let go of it and all other rationalizations. This realization created a critical turning point. It was the moment when change became possible. This concept can be boiled down to a simple equation:

Less of me + more of them = more success as a leader


A crucial lesson for leaders to learn is that the more they focus on what is best for their team, instead of for themselves, the harder the team will work to benefit the company. Ultimately, this will reflect positively on the leader.

You can help free leaders from the “prison of me” by guiding them to discover the endless possibilities that await once they are ready to let go of the “need to be me.” Subsequently, the CEO changed his behavior in a way that benefited others and life was good.

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