Too often, the positions others take on depend on how they will benefit from the outcome. Self-interest is normal but taken too far, it can get in the way of sound decision-making and can undermine trust. Self-interest crosses the line when our advocacy for what benefits us comes before what is best for the team or organization.
The problem leaders confront is how to discern whether self-interest is having an uneven influence on where people stand on an issue. Vested interests are not always conscious to those who operate from them, and they often remain hidden from view. Even when brought to light, people live in denial about how their self-interest colors their judgments and advocacy. The problems surrounding this bias are much bigger than most leaders appreciate.
The best leaders recognize that self-interest is always in play. As the adage says, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” Fighting off the self-interest of others requires that leaders occasionally remind team members of their role to protect the team by keeping their personal interests at bay. Reviewing the obligations of leadership and collaborative decision-making must include a strong prompt to identify one’s self-interests before discussions and come prepared to keep those interests under wraps while the team finds its way to a great decision. Enlightening team members that they almost always have a dog in the hunt (and the dog may be them!) allows them to check their self-interest at the door before the discussion begins. In teams, restraining self-interest is always job one.