Often when I find myself dissatisfied with being a leader, I trace it back to one question, “What’s in it for me?”  This may be a natural question many of us ask as we evaluate options, but it is a recipe for dissatisfaction and a bad attitude for leaders.

Don’t get me wrong. I love leading. But the benefits of leading are often intangible versus the tangible answers we are looking for when we ask, “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM)

WIIFM is the Wrong Attitude

WIIFM is the acronym we used to use when I was in sales. That was the question we always tried to answer. Because whether they said it or not, our customers wanted to know, “What’s in it for me?”

As a leader, a WIIFM attitude is a selfish attitude. The role of a leader is not to get everything he wants. The role of a leader is to add value to others. In the military we used to say, “Mission first, people always.” Nowhere is there a line about the leader getting what he wants.

The WIIFM attitude may boil down our view of the world. Many people believe that if they do something, they deserve something in return. It’s like a contract: “If you do this, then I will do that.”

“If I am a good leader or do the right thing, then I should get something, a reward, a thank you…something!”

With this attitude, a leader will almost always be disappointed. The only way to be satisfied as a leader is to focus all my efforts on helping other people achieve their goals. A WIIFM attitudes focuses me on what feel I deserve.

Be Okay with The Intangibles

If I want to be happy in leadership, I need to be satisfied with the intangible benefits being a leader brings. Here are a few of the intangible benefits I get from leading:

  • Coaching someone to do something outside her comfort zone and seeing her succeed.
  • The phone calls for advice I get from people I used to lead.
  • The satisfaction of knowing I helped someone grow closer to his potential.
  • The long term relationships with the people I led 10, 15, and 20 years ago.

The problem with intangible benefits is they are not immediate, and they are hard to measure. But to be happy in leadership, I have to be okay with that.

The Bottom Line:

More often than not there are no tangible rewards for being a good leader. The rewards come in intangible ways. But they are much more gratifying.

If a leader focuses on the tangible rewards that a WIIFM attitude promises, that leader will be disappointed more often than not.

The best way to fight the disappointment of a good deed going unrecognized, is not to place value on the recognition, but to place value on the deed itself. To do that, we need to get rid of the WIIFM attitude and adopt a WIIFMC (What’s in it for my character) attitude.

Selflessness in a leader builds our character and creates committed followers.


Where can you change your expectations from WIIFM to WIIFMC?

Dave Anderson is coauthor of the Amazon Best-Seller Becoming a Leader of Character – Six Habits that Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home with his father General James L. Anderson (USA Retired).

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