Selflessness Exercise

The power of selflessness is misunderstood in our competitive culture. The concept is often confused with weakness or self-sacrifice. But the selflessness exemplified by great leaders (think “Band of Brothers” commander Dick Winters, or young Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai) is deeply rooted in strength, self-confidence, courage and resilience.

This process is designed to help you to practice leading and living in such a strong, selfless way. It starts by focusing on simple, easily accomplished activities.

By exploring what selflessness means to you, and what it looks and feels like in daily life, you increase its potential to empower your leadership, as well as to enhance your relationships and daily life.


1. Begin each day with kindness to yourself.

  • When you wake up, slowly breathe in and out as you scan your body from head to toe.
  • Repeat this breath cycle four times, noting your breath rising through your body as you inhale, and falling as you exhale.
  • Return to your normal, rhythmic breathing.
  • Bring to mind something in nature that makes you smile.
  • Notice how you feel about this image and why. Enjoy.

2. Build empathy on your foundation of inner strength.

  • Notice when you judge people and situations, either positively or negatively. Examine your own judgments dispassionately, without defensiveness or self-criticism.
  • Notice others’ behavior without comparing it to your own.
  • Imagine what others might be feeling.
  • Identify three ways you might be helpful to others you’re observing.
  • Reinforce your practice by performing one helpful act.

3. Communicate clearly and compassionately.

  • Be curious. Wait for pauses to ask clarifying questions. Resist interrupting others.
  • Speak slowly and briefly.
  • Reflect back what you understand with questions like, “What I’m hearing is,” and “It sounds like you’re saying…”.
  • Notice something you appreciate about the person or situation.

4. Foster success by sharing credit.

  • Value each person’s contribuiton.
  • Look for opportunities to use sincerely inclusive language, such as “We succeeded,” “We learned a lot,” and “What would you suggest?”
  • Create a growth culture in your team. Appreciate and develop yourself and others.
  • Celebrate shared success wth your team, colleagues, friends and family.