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How to Choose Significance Over Self in Your Leadership Development Journey

By Maxwell Leadership | August 23, 2022
How to Choose Significance Over Self in Your Leadership Development Journey

Have you ever been so caught up in your pursuit of success that you woke up one day and realized that you’ve lost your purpose? You became so inward-focused that you forgot the key part to achieving significance is to benefit others. In other words, you had become selfish.

People don’t typically set out to be selfish, but when pursuing our goals, it’s sometimes easy to start prioritizing our self-interests above all else, including what we and others may need, the success of the organization, and sometimes the very the health and well-being of our teams. We start living just for ourselves, and we forget the definition of success altogether: knowing your purpose, maximizing your potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others. (John C. Maxwell)

There are a lot of examples of selfish leaders out there, including those who claim to be leadership experts. These are leaders who not only make their decisions based solely on what will benefit them, but also do not invest in their own personal growth and development.

What impacts our personal growth and ability to experience significance are our motives, our maturity, and our mindset.

A selfish leader will never become a significant leader. In fact, the very notions of selfishness and significance are incompatible. Below, we explore three key areas that affect our ability to choose significance: motives, maturity, and mindset.


Our motives are rooted in knowing our purpose. Why are we pursuing a specific goal, and what do we ultimately want to achieve? Is it something that serves only ourselves or is it something that leads to powerful, positive change? The primary question of motive is this: are you living for yourself or for others?

If you find that your self-interests are governing most of your decisions, then it might be time to take a step back and reevaluate your purpose and the why behind it.


It’s easy to equate maturity with age. After all experience comes with time, and wisdom often comes with experience. But maturity has less to do with age and more to do with character—our ability to accept responsibility, demonstrate integrity, see things through, and think beyond the present. Author and philosopher David Whyte describes maturity this way: “the ability to live fully and equally in multiple contexts, most especially the ability, despite our many griefs and losses, to courageously inhabit the past, the present, and the future all at once.”

You cannot have maturity without courage—the courage to face the challenges of the past, make a clear decision in the present, and see the decision through, realizing a future that doesn’t collapse in defeat or self-preservation.

If you’re not sure about your maturity, start evaluating your level of stick-to-it-ness. Do you finish projects or jump from one new initiative to another without completing what you’ve started? Do you find yourself choosing the fun of the present at the cost of a better future? Do you do what you say you’re going to do? All of these are questions of maturity, and they all require courage to choose the mature path forward.


Your mindset is simply how you think, and people of significance have a specific way of thinking that keeps them from falling into a mode of selfishness. The easiest way to think about the mindset required for a life of significance is to compare two types of people: takers and makers.

  • Takers are solely consumers. They exist in a mindset governed by scarcity, fear, reactivity, and stagnation. They also have a win/lose mentality—they must win and others must lose.
  • Makers, on the other hand, are creators. They actively live in a mindset governed by abundance, generosity, faith, proactivity, and growth. They also have a win/win mentality—they must win but only if others win, too. People who achieve significance are makers.

When you find yourself edging into a taker mindset, starting thinking outward. What can you do in the situation to not only benefit your personal growth, but also the personal growth and development of others? What can you do for someone that they can’t do for themselves?

By choosing the high road of significance, we’ll not only combat the selfish tendencies that are holding us and others back from success; we’ll also be better leaders—leaders who create powerful, positive change in ourselves, in others, in our organizations, and in the world.

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