“Enough About Me!”

Musings from Richard Leider
What Richard’s essay reminds us of is why leadership practices like The Art of Convening can make a difference in every setting…

[Next week: An Incomplete Manifesto of Purpose]


“Enough about me! What do you think about me?”


If you have the tendency to make every conversation about you, you might be a “conversational narcissist” and not even be aware. Fortunately, I’m becoming increasingly aware of my own “c.n.” tendencies. I’m not always the listener that I pretend to be with others. But, I’m working on it! How about you?

The term “conversational narcissist” was coined by sociologist Charles Derber and describes the trait of consistently turning a conversation back to yourself. A balanced conversation involves both sides but conversational narcissists tend to keep the focus on themselves. The tendency is so habitual, that they don’t even notice (or care) when the listener tunes them out or rolls their eyes.

Most likely you’ve had this experience at times. It’s also likely that you’ve done this as well, but weren’t aware you were doing it. In Derber’s book, The Pursuit of Attention, he reports on researchers observing how conversationalists competed for attention. He describes conversational narcissism as “the key manifestation of the attention-getting psychology in America.” And, he claims that “it occurs in informal conversations among friends, family, and co-workers!”

Do you know any conversational narcissists?

You most likely have at least a few people in your life who seem to talk about themselves ad nauseum, showing little curiosity about what you have to offer. Ever. They have an exaggerated sense of self-importance coupled with constant craving for attention and affirmation. Does anyone particular come to mind?

Conversational narcissists enjoy hearing themselves talk. It doesn’t matter if you talk about your greatest feat or greatest fear, it always comes back to them. Somehow, they always circle back to their story. They don’t intend to be rude. But, they blindly seem to get caught up in their own dramas.

Erich Fromm writes in The Art of Being – “Narcissism is an orientation in which all one’s interest and passion are directed to one’s own person: one’s body, mind, feelings, interests. For the narcissistic person, only he and what concerns him are fully real; what is outside, what concerns others, is real only in a superficial sense of perception… He is the world.”

Maybe they just lack EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Or, maybe they simply don’t care or have much curiosity about you even though they might politely pretend to be listening to you. After all, they wouldn’t want to be seen as totally self-absorbed.

Who me?

Here are three signs that you might have some conversational narcissist tendencies:

  1. You always seem to have a “better” story! Whatever they have done, you have done better. Too nice to tell you the truth, they might just avoid you altogether.

  2. You try to relate their story to something in your life! You wait for your opening to jump in and steal their thunder, bringing the conversation back to where it rightly belongs – on you!

  3. You don’t think people have much of interest to share. But, the truth is that you really just never let them! If you’re often leaving conversations thinking that others are boring, there’s a distinct probability that you just didn’t give them the space to get more than ten words in edgewise.

Are you interested or interesting?

Here’s a simple example of conversational narcissism:
Tom: “I didn’t get any sleep last night!”
Richard: “Really? I slept great! Have you considered getting a Select Comfort mattress? It’s really great… (“blah, blah, blah…”)

A conversational narcissist can quickly throw cold water on a conversation simply by not asking questions. Questions like: “Tom, were you worrying about something?” “Tell me more.” “What else is keeping you awake at night?” It’s fine to share things about yourself. But, the “golden rule” is simply to not jump in too early with your story.

You might genuinely feel that you’re interested. But, often the reality is that you were more interested in being interesting. And, most likely, you were really only catching keywords as you were thinking up your next line. In the meantime, you use filler words like: “Really?” “Oh, yeah!” “Uh-huh!” “Hmmm” “That’s interesting” or, “I get it!”

My story, Your story.

According to Derber, a healthy conversation is one where there’s a natural back-and-forth flow of ideas. It’s like a game of table tennis (ping pong), where the rhythm is steady with some pauses between points. Each player must contribute to keeping the ball in play.

In a healthy conversation, it would be a rhythm of “my story, your story.” If you keep pounding the ball for winners, it can throw the whole game off. A healthy conversation is cooperative, not competitive.

When I was in graduate school in counseling psychology, I memorized Carl Rogers #1 rule: “It’s the relationship itself that heals.” A counselor and a client must be in psychological contact. We must “be someone with” rather than “do something to” our client. Roger’s rule remains as relevant to me today as when it helped to shape the humanistic movement in psychology that he inspired back then.

Personally, I need to constantly remind myself that it isn’t my job to entertain people. I’m not their counselor. A great conversation isn’t the same as a speech or a lecture. It’s my job to both share and listen. And, I don’t want to miss the listening part!

Strategies for success.

So, what can you do to change the conversation? Here are three practices that I’m personally working on:

  1. You can’t change them! So, give up trying, now! Silence is golden. Conversational narcissists don’t like silence. So, become more comfortable with “waiting.” Fran Leibowitz says, “The opposite of talking is not listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.” How true for me. Here’s how I try “to wait.” I center myself by taking three deep breaths and then stay focused on my breathing (while maintaining eye contact).

  2. Don’t expect too much! Set a time limit and end the conversation at that precise time, no matter what! Practice saying “No.” No is a complete sentence. Master the decline by not offering support statements! Just smile and enjoy lunch!

  3. Become a conversational narcissist yourself! Really. Flip the conversation by asking this question: “Are you open to an assessment?” This usually stops people cold and opens the door for you to step in with your response, story, or point-of-view. It changes the game.

Richard Leider, founder of Inventure – The Purpose Company, is one of America’s preeminent executive-life coaches. He is ranked by Forbes as one of the “Top 5” most respected executive coaches, and by the Conference Board as a “legend in coaching.” Richard has written ten books, including three best sellers, which have sold over one million copies and have been translated into 20 languages. Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose are considered classics in the personal development field. Richard’s PBS Special – The Power of Purpose – was viewed by millions of people across the U.S.

Richard Leider

Richard Leider

Purpose Shared: Qualitative Research & Whole Person Leadership for Women

by Patricia Neal


Qualitative research plays a unique role in CPL’s Whole Person Leadership for Women program. Faculty member and Qualitative Research Specialist Claudia Eisinger of Fifth Element Associates has created powerful results integrating research into the program.

Core to Whole Person Leadership for Women (WPL) is the concept of “From Where You Lead”: Who are you as a leader? What are your leadership values and principles? What is your purpose and how do you share it?

Whole person  leadership for women

Whole person
for women

The role of research in the WPL program is as a deep listening and reflecting tool to help you connect to and nurture what matters to you. When you are connected more fully to your purpose you are able to connect more genuinely with and bring out best in others, creating a wider, collective and culturally beneficial impact.

Through individual participant interviews and synthesis of each program session, Claudia identified patterns and trends of the individual and collective journey of the WPL cohort. A potent example of a research insight about the program is reflected below.


If you are a woman leader who wants to be more authentic and powerful in your various leadership roles: at home, at work and in your communities, we’d love to have you join us. The next cohort begins in October. Learn more here.

Purpose Shared: Whole Person Leadership for Women

Photo credit: Patricia Neal 2017

Photo credit: Patricia Neal 2017

by Patricia Neal

Tend & Befriend: Back in 2007 I read an article about a 2003 UCLA study where researchers identified a critical difference between the sexes…how we manage stress. I began to ask new questions about leadership and representation and wrote an article that led me to co-found a women's leadership retreat with Vonda Vaden Bates: When Women Lead

The questions that led me to create When Women Lead are still relevant today and led me to create Whole Person Leadership for Women in 2017. I invite you to read the article and consider joining us for the next Whole Person Leadership for Women cohort this Fall.

I wondered what is the expression that is needed to create leadership that brings wholeness? What is the world that we want to see for ourselves, women and men, and our children? And how do we get there?

I felt it was time for women to step forward in our real power, which is being who we truly are. Who we are as feminine leaders is that we are humans first; we come from and can act from wholeness that recognizes that.

In 2003 UCLA researchers identified a critical difference between the sexes…how we manage stress. Early baseline studies on stress and human behavior were conducted predominantly on men. This study established a new baseline: Females respond to stressful situations by protecting themselves (and their young) through nurturing behaviors (‘tending”), and by friendship, forming alliances with a larger social group (“befriending”). In other words, the traditional “fight-or-flight” explanation may be inaccurate when it comes to women. 

I began to challenge all assumptions as to how the world functions and how I can make a difference. I had spent my life overriding natural tendencies of behavior and leadership. I began to look for models and allies that could help me grow into the leadership that is naturally mine: leadership from the perspective of wholeness versus authority-over.

As you probably know, many women have gathered, in our communities and organizations, all over the world, forming alliances for social change, doing business together. This still-emergent movement is quietly, persistently changing the world as we learn to author our lives.

Purpose Shared: People on the Move @ CPL

Photo credit: Craig Neal 2017

Photo credit: Craig Neal 2017

by Patricia and Craig Neal

In Spring of 2017, Rachel Harris, MAOL, a trusted Heartland colleague since 2012, left to run for City of St. Louis Park City Council. In November 2017, SHE WON and is now the Ward 3 Council person!! Lucky them! Even though it's been over a year, it is never too late to give a proper send-off and honor her. Joel Hodroff of Scryp.io and DualCurrency recommended Rachel to us — was he spot on! Rachel was a joy to work with for five years. We learned so much from her as a Systemic Change Facilitator, Policy wonk, and Strategic thinker, but also as one who holds a big vision for kindness, equity, collaboration and all boats rising in our organizations and communities.

Rachel-swearing in.jpg

We say goodbye, and a big thank you, to Sarah Flores, our trusty marketing and social media intern for 1-1/2 years. Sarah helped build and grow a structure for our marketing outreach as we rebranded from Heartland Inc. to Center for Purposeful Leadership a year and half ago. Sarah graduated from the University of Iowa in May and recently moved to Denver for exciting new work with Insight Global.


We welcome Anna Patterson, our new marketing and social media intern. Anna has helped expand our social media game, while keeping an eye on on our marketing program. Anna is a Senior at UW Madison, completing her degree in Strategic Communication and Political Science next May.


Many thanks to Daniel Scotton, a most excellent summer CPL intern, who has guided the visual design and technical buildout of our new blog. His creative leadership and willingness to work hand and hand with us allowed the blog rebuild to be completed in record time. Daniel is completing his degree in Philosophy and International Business at Hamline University. We are grateful for his willingness to dive in to grow his expertise and teach us a lot of new tricks!

Purpose Shared: Introducing Our New Blog!

Photo Credit: Craig Neal | 2013 |  Bde Maka Ska

Photo Credit: Craig Neal | 2013 | Bde Maka Ska

Introducing our beautiful new blog!

Each week we'll share all things purposeful: Purpose Moments, Purpose Shared postings, convening as purpose-in-action, and more.

What you can count on is attention to why purpose matters, and why purpose-shared is the ultimate leadership expression for yourself and on behalf of others.  We will continue to post interviews with and essays from thought leaders in the realm of purposeful leadership. (see Archives in the right column) 

You can participate, too! Send us your stories of sharing your purpose. How has sharing your purpose made a difference in your life, organization or family? We are collecting interviews and stories as an inspiration for others. Email Patricia with your ideas.

Many thanks to Daniel Scotten, a most excellent summer CPL intern, who has guided the design and technical buildout of the blog. 

Purpose Shared: My Purpose & Richard Leider

WPL banner.png

by Patricia Neal

Richard Leider

Richard Leider

Last week Craig and I met with Richard Leider. We reviewed the binder of materials covered in the recent Whole Person Leadership for Women. We are actualizing purpose work in innovative ways such as via the Napkin Test (Richard's), WPL Leadership Blueprint & Challenge, Purpose Statement and Purpose Plan.

Living your purpose is visceral for Richard. He had a challenge for us to consider: If purpose is about growing and giving, how are we using our Purpose Statements to grow and give every day.? How does my Purpose Statement help me organize my day? What are the benchmarks? At the end of the day, what is the measure of expression.

He is a believer of first thing in the am, before anything else, to take a moment and focus on purpose. Last thing at night, review the day.

For instance, my purpose statement is: “Bringing people together for positive impact for all boats to rise.” At the grocery store, at work, wherever I am.

He asked: in the morning, upon awakening do I imagine who I will be connecting?
In the evening, can I recall my impact? Or how many boats have risen?

Oh boy! That conversation has helped be narrow my focus to more fully express my purpose.

Purpose Shared: Nelson Mandela's 100th Birthday- Making History...

The first happened in 1964, when Mandela was put on trial for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state. The second is the speech Mandela gave in 1994 when he was inaugurated as president.

The first happened in 1964, when Mandela was put on trial for sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state. The second is the speech Mandela gave in 1994 when he was inaugurated as president.

by Patricia Neal

Two Mandela Speeches That Made History

Today is my birthday! I am honored to share it with many amazing people, not the least of whom is Nelson Mandela. I speak in the present tense because, today, almost 3 years after his passing, his spirit is alive and strong. His purpose was so clear—to create a free society in which all are valued for their humanity—that it lives strong in the hearts of many, fueling vision and right action on behalf of others. As Richard Leider notes, purpose is about serving something larger than yourself. Purpose-shared is always the goal. 

Join me in being inspired to live larger than our selves, with right action, on behalf of a freedom that values each human for their gifts and presence.