One of the most important characteristics of good leaders may surprise you… Over of the past few years I have come to believe it’s selfishness!

Before you give up reading in disgust, let me explain. defines selfish as ‘concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc, regardless of others’. This is not the kind of selfishness I am advocating.

Good leaders display what I call ‘intentional selfishness’: ‘concerned firstly with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc, so that we can support others’.

Petra is a dynamic executive, a wonderful human being, and a single mother. She is committed to her professional life and her young daughter, and goes to extreme lengths to ensure everything gets done to a high standard. This has served her well (great career in a fascinating industry, gorgeous well adjusted child)… Until now…

She’s prioritized herself below work, below family, below everything else. (Being a single parent is a very tough gig so it’s easy to see how this has happened.)

Petra is now exhausted; working round the clock to meet deadlines has resulted in burn out. Petra needs some intentional selfishness. Saying no, prioritising a walk at lunchtime, making a yoga class rather than finalising a document review… A series of smaller decisions to ‘be firstly concerned with her own welfare’ will help Petra get back on track.

Guilty as charged – I have been there too. Doing too much of the ‘right thing’, gradually reducing my resilience and decreasing my cognitive ability, until I hit rock bottom. Only when a trusted mentor pointed this out was I able to see it.

Cliché I know… What does the flight attendant tell you to do? ‘In the event of an emergency, fit your own oxygen mask first before attending to others.’ A practical example of intentional selfishness.

When was the last time you used YOUR oxygen mask? Make some time for yourself today so that you can support others.

Go Fearlessly


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