The most recognizable symbols of Ancient Egypt – the mummy and the pyramid – were elaborate attempts at self-preservation. The Egyptian pharaohs believed their spirits would remain inside their bodies after death to embark on a journey into the afterlife. On account of this belief, the pharaohs spared no expense to ensure their bodies would transition securely and comfortably into the hereafter. It was not uncommon for a pharaoh to begin drawing up plans for his pyramid as the first order of business after ascending to the throne.
Generations of Egyptians were forced into decades of backbreaking labor to build pyramids so that the deceased body of one pharaoh would be pampered in the afterlife. To construct a pyramid, stones averaging 2.5 tons had to be hewn out of rock quarries by laborers with primitive tools, hauled across the desert, and carried up ramps to be set into place. Archeologists estimate the Pyramids at Giza took between 20,000 and 30,000 workers about 80 years to build!
The primary purpose of the extravagant pyramids was to protect the pharaoh’s body, which itself was mummified for maximum preservation. A team of embalmers spent 70 days performing a variety of activities to prepare a pharaoh’s body for burial. When they had finally finished, the mummy was laid to rest in an ornate coffin and placed inside of the pyramid.
The pharaohs exhausted staggering amounts of their kingdom’s wealth and work force to preserve themselves. The exorbitant expenditures left many Egyptians in poverty and robbed the economy of essential funds. By frittering away national resources on self-preservation, the pharaohs likely accelerated the deterioration of their mighty kingdom.
The Me-First Mentality
As evidenced by the ancient Egyptians, leaders have prioritized self-preservation for thousands of years. Regrettably, self-preservation runs contrary to the true nature of leadership, which involves serving constituents. By operating with a me-first mentality, leaders deprive and exploit those they lead instead of equipping and inspiring them. In the process, they provoke resentment, lose respect, and accomplish little.
Although self-preservation sabotages leadership, throughout history men and women in authority have been preoccupied with protecting their position and status. What drives leaders to be so inwardly focused?
Root Causes of a Self-Preserving Leader
1) They Fear Change
Change can be viewed as a threat or an opportunity. Either way, it’s inevitable. A self-preserving leader dreads change and erects barriers to it whenever possible. After change proves to be unavoidable, the self-preserving leader is jostled has trouble coping with new realities.
2) They Stop Growing
Leaders who stop growing eventually start clinging to position instead of merit. These leaders rely on experience and seniority to compensate for their decline in knowledge and ability. The lure of self-preservation sucks them into the narrow confines of their comfort zones, and, as a consequence, they dodge assignments that require learning new skills or breaking with the usual routine.
3) They Lose Self-Belief
Insecure leaders place others at arm’s length and guard their turf. Having lost self-belief, they fear being exposed as incompetent. These sorts of people live with a tremendous sense of vulnerability. For this reason, they respond poorly to failure, seeing it as an indictment of their ineptitude rather than a learning experience.
Whatever the source, self-preservation causes leaders foolishly to expend their energies and influence fortifying their own position. In doing so, they malnourish the persons they should be serving. By neglecting the effectiveness of their people, self-preserving leaders indirectly minimize the extent of their own influence.