Character Traits: Selflessness

Personal Success in Helping Others Succeed

At the core of good character is the recognition that we win most by helping others win.

SelflessnessI find it helpful to think of good character in terms of three TRAITS: Integrity, Selflessness, and Responsibility. Each of those traits can be further detailed as a set of ATTRIBUTES. (See diagram.) The central trait of good character is Selflessness.


If you had to choose between living in a world where everyone was selfish and one where everyone was completely selfless, which would you choose?

In a selfish world, everyone fights for their own interests without regard for what happens to anyone else. There is no trust, no compassion, no love.

In a selfless world, everyone helps everyone else achieve their best. There’s no reason not to trust others. Help is easy to find and needs are quickly met.

Of course, being selfless in a selfish world means sometimes you get the short end of the stick. But the intrinsic rewards of selflessness remain, and sometimes the benefits can be even greater because selflessness stands out and earns even more respect.

Attributes of Selflessness

Selfless people reflect the following attributes:

  • Humble – Honest self-assessment. Finding as much pleasure in the accomplishments of others as in my own.
  • Courageous – Accepting personal risks to benefit others and causes I believe in.
  • Respectful – Treating others with dignity and civility, even when I disagree with them.
  • Teachable – Allowing others to teach, correct, and challenge me.
  • Generous – Willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of others.
  • Trusting – Expecting the best from others; accepting measured risks to let them prove trustworthy.
  • Caring – Demonstrating kind, compassionate concern for the success and well-being of others.
  • Just – Standing up for the fair, dignified treatment of all others regardless of my personal affinity for them.

A Bigger Slice for Everyone

It’s counter-intuitive and increasingly counter-cultural to put the interests of others ahead of our own. It’s easy to think, “If I don’t look out for myself, who will?” But that’s short-sighted. A lifestyle of genuine care for others creates a network of people around us who in turn want to help us succeed. It’s a mindset that isn’t after a bigger piece of the pie at others’ expense; but rather seeks to make the pie bigger so everyone gets a bigger piece – including us.

Good character takes intentional effort to develop. But if you really want to build a positive legacy and impact the world for good, build on the foundations of selflessness, integrity, and responsibility. © 2020 enLumen Leadership Services

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