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CIO Unplugged 1/22/14

January 22, 2014 Ed Marx 14 Comments
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Leadership and Identity—Look at Me! Look at Me! Look at Me! (Part 4 of 4)

We may not admit it, but most of us crave recognition and awards like a drug. Receiving honors gets us high. We love the buzz that says, “I’m better than you.”

Accolades, though fine on their own, can create an identity on which we base our self-esteem and worth. But it’s only a short-term fix, and the satisfaction quickly fades. The buzz wears off. Worldly recognition is a pursuit that never quenches the real need for significance and worth. The new gold plaque merely masks our insecurities.

So we seek after more, something bigger. Perhaps a more prestigious award. Another graduate degree. Another Fellow.

Don’t believe it? Bing the thousands of companies out there that make a living off our need for recognition. Peruse the corporate office walls. Facebook screams, LOOK AT ME!

You want to score a quick hookup? Talk up your target and pour on verbal affirmation and validation. Want to watch a coward become a hero? Entice him with a ribbon for his chest. Humans are complex for sure, but when it comes to our ego’s need for glory, we are single focused, simple minded, and easily led astray.

Hey, I’m stuck there in the “Look at me!” frenzy. I have sacrificed those most important to me just to win that coveted award. I worked longer hours than reasonable just to be ranked number one. I had to add cabinets to store my prizes. Heck, I spent three hours per day in the gym purely so I could outperform those half my age and get a medal around my neck to brag about it.

I know I’m not alone. I’ve watched marriages destroyed because some guy needed to upgrade his trophy wife. It’s madness! And I am determined to stop it in my own life.

Whoa, now, hold on a minute! There is nothing wrong with winning awards and being recognized for great service or whatever. True. But it becomes a problem when we make it the foundation for our identity. How do you know you have an identity issue? Ask yourself some key questions.

  • Are you defensive reading this post so far?
  • Do you perform so you can get your name engraved on a plaque?
  • Do you covet the other guy’s award?
  • At parties, do you brag about your trophies, medals, certificates?
  • When in conversation, can you draw out the success of others without speaking a word about your last honor?
  • Do you set performance targets because they are the right thing to do or because they will gather positive self-attention?
  • Who do your pursuits make more famous, your employer or you?
  • When you receive recognition, do you take all the glory or share it?
  • When you receive recognition, do you display false modesty?
  • Do you live for yourself or for others?
  • Do you always need to be in control?
  • Are you constantly bewitched by the legacy you will leave?
  • When you don’t win what you want, are you ticked off?

If your identity is based on the need for external validation, what can you do?

First, get rid of people who feed you bullshit. You know who they are — the ones who make you feel good because they inflate your ego. Replace them with people who will be brutally honest and have no fear of repercussion. How do you know who they are? They’re the ones who make you mad.

A couple of my direct reports are good at this. I have staffers who are unafraid of me and get in my face. I love ’em! If there is nobody close to you who challenges you to the point of making you mad, you might need an identity reboot. Conflict, not flattery, is what helps build our character.

As I draw closer to the half-century mark, I find myself on a new learning curve. Man, the growth is painful. I’m OK with recognition and awards now as long as they are purely an external validation of an internal (team) reality. I won’t personally pursue them nor take actions for the sole purpose of personal fame.

Recently, I made the biggest mistakes of my life when I forgot who I was and chased false sources of identity. If it weren’t for mercy, I might not be writing this post. I’m committed to discovering who I really am so I never do that again. Finding my true self is painful and ugly, but at the same time, gloriously beautiful. And freeing.

I’ll leave you with this from one of my heroes, Saint Paul:

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him.

During this series, I pointed out that an identity based on what you do, how you look, or your titles and awards will not lead to fulfillment. What I’m learning is truth for me and it’s rooted in faith. I know I am Edward Marx. A follower of Christ. Here to serve and point others towards the pursuit of truth. I might fail, but I will get back up and move forward.

Who are you? Where is your identity rooted?

This concludes a four-part series on Leadership and Identity. The previous posts are Identity and the Leader, I Look Better than You Do, and It’s All About the Title.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Ed, you are on my “most want to meet” bucket list–and it is a very short list. The way you express your faith goes right to the heart. Thank you for being so open with your testimony to the truth.

  2. Great points Ed. St. Paul also shared that he did not suffer loss for this attitude. He was content in every situation whether he had excess or was in need. While this is not a state of being easily reached, it is quite liberating when you no longer depend on personal recognition and can build up others allowing them to shine. Too many of us have a one-up attitude. Someone mentions an achievement and we need to on-up them with something we have done that outshines their achievement. This is a great habit to break.

  3. Thanks for the stated thoughts Ed. I enjoy the accolades just as much as everyone else, and definitely like to be recognized for hard work. But I have found that there is a growing sense of satisfaction in giving praise and kudos to others around me…both to them directly and also to their managers/directors. We are all in this battle together. Better to lift up then to tear down.

  4. Ed,

    Great post. As someone who is still in the beginning of my career, I think everyday about the direction I am going. I often juggle with the challenges to strive for the worldly accomplishments (high wage, awards, great title) vs. what is most fulfilling, which is what God is asking me to do. It’s so hard to know if the path we are on is the right one, but everyday prayer, and asking for constant guidance, along with hard work and effort, is all we can do TODAY.

    I appreciate your openness on your faith, and sharing the struggle to become the best person you can be.

    Best of luck,

  5. Loved the first key question to ask yourself to see if you have an identity issue – Are you defensive reading this post so far?

  6. Ed well said and thank you again for sharing from your heart. I believe our identity is not often set by who we are, but WHOSE we are. We are all owned by something in life. I am glad I choose what will own me and I will be identified as.

    Thanks again!

  7. Some might experience a degree of cognitive dissonance reading the above from the man who was just named CIO of the Year, but those of us who have met, read, and/or heard Ed know that it is both coincidence, and honestly earned. Kudos on being a leader we should all model.

  8. Ah-ha! I finally get it! This series isn’t meant to help you change – it’s a celebration of how you got where you are! Until this post I completely missed the irony. I feel so stupid – well you can add that to your achievements. As some one on the far side of 50 that has lived the quiet, purpose-driven life without accolades, awards, or even thanks or recognition of my contributions, I’ve had to make due with knowing the glory and career enhancements of my superiors were based on my efforts, often stolen, always without attribution. Because I was moronic enough to believe that this was advice meant to help me advance, instead of just more “I did it, you can too! Just work harder!”.

    Unless your next post is an announcement of your donation of all your material gains to the poor, resignation from your CIO job, and joining of the Peace Corps or a religious order you are just another huckster, selling success through prosperity scripture.

  9. Great job Ed! I have enjoyed reading this whole series. The times when I question my identity the most is when I have done something very well, or when I have failed at something. Being grounded in faith and understanding that I am made in the image of the creator helps these times become less volatile. Like you, I have a long way to go. Thank God for mercy and grace!

  10. I can’t believe it we have another Jim Baker in the makings right before our eye! I fell for him but I’m older and wiser now

  11. Ed, thanks for having the courage to continually write posts like this, and not just to write them, but to live out their words. The “look at me” culture is as pervasive in the workplace as it (sadly) is in people’s personal lives and it’s profoundly damaging. I like what you wrote about defensively reading. These are exactly the kind of blog posts I want to read, the type of sermons I need to hear, even though on the surface I don’t enjoy reading or listening to them. Too often we just look for affirmation, when really what we need to grow is to be knocked on our butts!

  12. Ed,

    I am also a believer and beginning this same process this year. Lot of changes and Christ is at the center of my motivation. It has been a great year so far.

    Thanks for this post and sharing your faith. That is our charge as Christians after all.

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