Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mackay: Recall those you relied on to rein in ego

Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.

This anonymous saying is often attributed to legendary college-basketball coach John Wooden. And he surely hit the nail on the head.

I have a different way of talking about conceit in my speeches. If you think you're indispensable, I tell my audiences, stick your finger in a bowl of water and watch the hole it leaves when you pull it out.

This lesson was drilled into my head by my parents, who made sure their brash son knew what they thought about conceited people. Perhaps this is where my fondness for aphorisms comes from. I can still hear them saying, "Swallow your pride occasionally; it's non-fattening" and "It is far better to have other people say how great you are."

Throughout my life, I have observed what happens when heads swell and egos exceed capacity. The "me first" attitude is met with "not you again" resistance. Conceit and success are not compatible.

There is no shame in taking pride in achievements or position. But nobody gets to the top alone. It's only lonely at the top if you forget all the people you met along the way and fail to acknowledge their contributions to your success.

There's the story about the self-important CEO who arrived at the ballroom where his company's annual meeting was being held, only to be stopped at the door by a burly uniformed guard.

"Just wait here," said the guard, "until I check the list."

"But," sputtered the CEO, "don't you know who I am?"

"No, sir," said the guard, "but I will go and find out and let you know."

I can tell you right now who the fellow is - a person whose universe is very small because it has no room for others.

"A person completely wrapped up in himself makes a small package," wrote Harry Emerson Fosdick, an American clergyman. "The great day comes when a man begins to get himself off his hands. He has lived, let us say, in a mind like a room surrounded by mirrors.

"Every way he turned he saw himself. Now, however, some of the mirrors change to windows. He can see through them to objective outlooks that challenge his interests. He begins to get out of himself - no longer the prisoner of self-reflections but a free man in a world where persons, causes, truths and values exist, worthful for their own sakes. Thus to pass from a mirror-mind to a mind with windows is an essential element in the development of a real personality. Without that experience no one ever achieves a meaningful life."

Think of it this way: When business is good, who gets the credit? When the chips are down, whom do you blame?

Start by looking in Fosdick's mirror. If you see only yourself, keep looking. Look closely and see if you don't recognize people who shaped you as a young child, throughout your education and at every step in your career.

Mackay's Moral: Conceit is a strange disease. It makes everyone sick except the person who's got it.

by Harvey Mackay May 16, 2011

Mackay: Recall those you relied on to rein in ego

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