The Excessive Need to be Me

The Excessive Need to be Me

Each of us has a pile of behaviour which we define as “me.” It’s the chronic behaviour, both positive and negative, that we think of as our inalterable essence.

If we’re a person who’s chronically poor at returning phone calls—whether because we’re overcommitted or simply rude, or we believe that if people really need to talk to us they’ll call until they get through—we mentally give ourselves a pass every time we fail to get back to callers. “Hey, that’s me. Deal with it.” To change would be going against the deepest, truest part of our being. It would be inauthentic.

If we are incorrigible procrastinators who habitually ruin other people’s timetables, we do so because we’re being true to “me.”

If we always express our opinion, no matter how hurtful or non-contributory it may be, we are exercising our right to be “me.”

You can see how, over time, it would be easy to begin seeing our flaws as virtues—simply because the flaws constitute what we think of as “me.” This misguided loyalty to our true natures—this excessive need to be me—is one of the toughest obstacles to making positive long-term change in our behaviour. It doesn’t need to be.

Some years ago I worked with a leader whose chief documented roadblock was that he wasn’t good at giving positive recognition to his staff.

As I went over his scores with him, I said, “This is quite remarkable. You have some of the highest scores I’ve ever seen in seven key areas, and then there’s this one area—giving positive recognition—which nobody thinks you’re good at.”

“What do you want me to do? Go around praising people who don’t deserve it?” he asked. “I don’t want to look like a phoney.”

We went back and forth on this for a while as he desperately defended his low scores on giving positive recognition. He had high standards and people didn’t always meet them. He didn’t like to hand out praise indiscriminately; he thought singling out people could weaken the team. His rationalisations went on and on.

I finally said, “I don’t think you have a problem with handing out praise. Nor is the problem that you think doing so means you’re a phoney. The real problem is your self-limiting definition of who you are. You define phoney as anything that isn’t…! So when you hand out praise, you think, ‘This isn’t me.’ Why isn’t this you?”

His scores proved that he had many good qualities that he accepted. My job was to help him add one more definition of himself—that of a boss who is good at giving positive recognition.

I asked him, “Will giving positive recognition make people feel better?”


“Will they perform better as a result?”


“Will that help your career?”


“So why don’t you start doing it?”

“Because,” he laughed, “it wouldn’t be me.”

That was the moment when change became possible—when he realised that this stern allegiance to his self-definition was pointless. If he could shed his “excessive need to be me,” he wouldn’t see himself as a phoney.

Sure enough, when he let go of his devotion to “me,” all his other rationalisations fell away. He began to see his direct reports as talented, hard-working people who deserved periodic praise, and found that saying “good job” to people—even when performance wasn’t 100%—didn’t damage his reputation as a demanding boss. The payoff in terms of improved morale and performance was enormous, and within a year his scores on giving positive recognition were on par with his other high scores—all because he had lost his excessive need to be “me.”

The irony of all this wasn’t lost on him either. The less he focused on himself and the more he considered what his staff was feeling, the more it benefited him. His reputation as a manager soared. His career did too.

It’s an interesting equation: Less me. More them. Equals success.

Keep this in mind when you find yourself resisting change because you’re clinging to a false—or pointless—notion of “me.” It’s not about you. It’s about what other people think of you.

SOURCE:  Excerpted from What Got You Here Won't Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful. 2007 Marshall Goldsmith Ney York.  Purchase book at

Want to know how your team rates you? 

  Contact us at Talent Tools for information about our 360 Degree Feedback and Assessment Tools.  

P 3862 2859    SKYPE 3103 0177

Author:Marshall Goldsmith