Thursday, March 08, 2007

Self-Awareness & Humility

While driving the hubby to the office in our trusty, rusty Mali-shmoo (paid for), I listened to Dr. Laura for a minute. I hadn't heard her for years. She has a kid who's a paratrooper in the Army! Who knew? Last time I listened, her husband was secretly following him while he rode his bike to school. She even has a blog. Anyway, a woman called in who had a son who had been suspended three days this week for slapping a couple kids at school. He slapped them for laughing at him when he fell, for "calling him out", etc. Dr. Laura's recommendation was simple: start the kid in Karate. He has impulse control issues. Karate will put him in "embarrassing" situations and he will have to develop emotional control to deal with it, otherwise, he will be doing a lot of knuckle push-ups. Great advice, really. Simple and effective. And it was clear by the woman's tone, she had zero intention of following it.

Last night, once again, the girls on American Idol got feedback. A couple, determinedly ignored it and ignored it again. Lakisha, one of the singers I love, took Simon's advice (which was right--he rarely misses his mark) and benefited. She dressed better. She looked beautiful. And her dress didn't distract from her incredible performance. It is interesting how the most talented, most gifted girls on this show humbly soak in the feed-back while the least talented ones ignore it and scorn it. This phenomenon is not rare. In life, the world can be separated into a couple camps: Those too good (usually not good at all) to be better and ignore feedback, and those who want to be better even if it means hearing painful feedback.

Can people change from being unaware to being self-aware? Yes, but it requires a bit of self-awareness to recognize that you're unaware and therein lies the paradox.

One book I recommend for unaware business types is Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman. The most important point from the book illuminates the key to leadership: Self-Awareness. Self-awareness means recognizing strengths and weaknesses and getting help for the weaknesses and building on the strengths. In fact, I don't suggest spending a ton of time trying to be something you're not (for more on that notion read First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently). What I do suggest is acknowledging what you are not and getting help in those areas while also building on your strengths.

For example, neither my husband and I are very good with detail orientation. While we both love to be organized, we possess a long nutty-professor streak (our daughter is exasperated with us quite a bit of the time). So, one of the first things we did when we had enough money to do it, was to hire a bookkeeper. Now, we could have continued slogging through Quickbooks with our multiple endeavors and live in perpetual fear of being out of compliance with the government and probably make a lot of mistakes--if we were too proud to get help. As it was, we paid fines over the years because we forgot this paperwork or that paperwork.

Another example, we laid out a problem we were having in our practice to a great practitioner friend of ours. He gave us some harsh advice in not-so-nice language. He was absolutely correct. We could have ignored it because he didn't say it kindly, but we would have been stupid. He was right. We were doing it wrong and we needed to change.

But there is the sticking point, isn't it? A lot of times, getting feedback means doing the dreaded: changing. Oh, my! Change is very real evidence that the way we were doing it wasn't so great at all, right? In fact, it often isn't the advice, it's the changing that is so burdensome. It brings up questions: Does that mean I wasn't good enough before the way I was? Yup. But who is good enough? Does that mean I don't have all the answers? Yup. Does that mean I wasted years of my life being stupid? Maybe. The key is that you know now. The future is before you.

All that realness can be tough for someone who is attached to their own greatness. Only a chump refuses to take feedback and work on it, though. Those who refuse to listen ignore information that others will take and use for their advantage. The self-unaware, the prideful will continue to make the same mistakes over and over. They will harm themselves and their future. And that's too bad.

Everyone has gifts to share and it is a crying shame when a lack of awareness interferes with success. When given advice, think long and hard before dismissing it. Try not to focus on the delivery or situation. It is easy to ignore feedback when it isn't given in a good spirit or delivered in a gentle way. Listen anyway. Listen to your wife, your husband, your kids, especially. They have no reason to want you to fail. They want you to succeed. They are not a competitive co-worker or a mean mother-in-law.

The most successful people in the world listen to feedback and use it. Pride goes before a fall. Humility can build a very abundant life.


carol said...

Well you're on to something. I wish I could get more people to criticize me in my latest endeavors. I think people soft-soap their critiques with women anyway, like they think we'll burst into tears. Actually it's a great compliment for someone to take you seriously enough to take you on. I had to run for office just to get any engagement at all and maybe I'll just keep on running.

I admit tuning out a lot of advice from my mother because there seemed an element of rivalry in it. It was hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, and she had made a mess of her life. Do you listen to such a person or not?

Melissa Clouthier said...

You bring up a good point. Sometimes advice isn't meant for your benefit, but to harm. It takes discernment to know the difference.

Here's a weird analogy: when I was playing the violin, I had a great teacher, but eventually she recognized that I had gotten as far as I could go with her. So I moved up to a much more challenging and proficient teacher.

In life, as we move to higher levels, we need people with broader life experience, more insight and more precise recommendations. I remember an interview with Bela Karoli about coaching Mary Lou Retton. Well, she was just doing her routines herself and self-correcting. The reporter asked why he wasn't out there telling her what to change. Karoli said that she knew her mistakes when she made them and when she needed help she asked.

There comes a point of proficiency, I think, that it is incumbent upon the achiever to seek advice when something isn't working--and seeks advice from a wise coach. No one is going to tell Tiger Woods to change his swing. He has to decide he needs the help and ask.

And while Mary Lou might be a world-class gymnast and Tiger Woods a premier golfer, and need only tiny nudges to reach perfection, they might have a difficult time learning to relax, say. (I don't know them, I'm just using their lives as hypotheticals.) They would have to rely on the feedback of family and whomever else gives them good advice to help steer them in the right direction.

A lot of people worried about Tiger getting married--that it might hurt his game. But he also has a life he must balance. And this is the challenge for all of us--making decisions we can live with in the long term.

So, no not all advice is worth listening to. I tend to see people tuning out, rather than over-tuning in to honest feedback. And who doesn't have trouble taking advice from their mother? It's fraught on a good day.