Dr. Richard Norris shares how the truth can be hard to swallow, especially if the truth points out our failings.
Any man will have surely had some honest and frank feedback from loved ones – be they parent, spouse, sibling, friend or coach. I had a swim coach who told me I gave up in a race. I denied it but it was true. I had my fair share of wake up calls from my dad when I showed bad sportsmanship. My wife carefully shares her concerns about my behavior when I step over the line and get angry with the kids. Each a home truth. Each hurtful. Each necessary for my own good. For me to lead myself well, I must be prepared to hear the truth – for good or bad.
How well do you handle the truth about you?
Let’s be honest, nobody is perfect.
You. Me. Or anyone else. We’ve all failed at some point. We are all flawed in some way. We are all a work in progress. There is always room for improvement. If we are honest with ourselves, we know these to be true. Whilst I may have been an A student all through school, there were many answers I never got right. I used to hate making mistakes. I felt like such a failure. I focused on what I got wrong rather than on how well I did.
Over my career, I’ve been unemployed a few times. I’ve applied for various jobs for which I believe I was perfectly suited. When I got the feedback that I was unsuccessful, I used to feel like I’d failed myself and my family as a provider. In more recent years, when I got rejected I learned to accept that it’s not the right fit for me (and at times I’ve even retorted that it’s their loss). I’ve always made an effort to ask for feedback to see where the mismatch has been and to learn from it for future application.
We don’t like to admit our mistakes.
When my wife confronts me with my faults (I’ve discovered I have a few) I have to wrestle the bear of my ego because it wants to rise up and fight. From all I have witnessed or experienced, we men generally don’t like to admit we’re wrong. To do so would mean we failed and we don’t like to do that. To do so makes us believe that we appear weak. Weakness in nature is not tolerated. When I was doing wildlife rehabilitation as a vet, a weak animal was soon a dead one. When an animal is sick, initially you won’t know it. They put on a brave face. When you can see they are sick, they are really sick.
So we men like to keep our armor on. We like to be seen as tough and having it all together all the time (at least when others can see us). If someone points out our weaknesses and errors, we go on the defensive and at times we go on the offensive. Defend or attack. These are our two most used strategies when we are confronted, rightly or wrongly, for our mistakes.
One thing I’ve learned is that when I do admit my faults, I can see a clearer path ahead of how to improve myself and thereby improve future results. Admittedly, my wife has yet to be wrong about my faults. Anyone else have a similar experience?
We don’t have all the answers.
No one does. Even some of the best leaders of recent years don’t. Mandela. Branson. Buffet. Gates. They may be close but, as true leaders, these guys are all pretty humble. They have gained their humility through learning from their mistakes; by learning they do not know everything. However, their awareness of their limitations has led to their drive to learn, to grow, to improve.
Even when you are considered an expert, you don’t know everything. I’ve loads of knowledge and experience as a competitive swimmer, a veterinarian and a coach. I would not consider myself an expert in any. I’ve read that it takes 10 years of deep study to be deemed an expert; 10,000 hours to truly master a musical instrument. But in truth, whether a business expert or a virtuoso they will continue to learn believing there is more. Like them, we men must be prepared to grow and learn.
What to do.
Sure it’s tough when someone wants to point out the error of your ways. Some want to tell you the truth because they want to put you in your place (and raise theirs). Others do it with your best interests at heart. Either way, it can be a bitter pill at the time. But it will be even more hurtful if we don’t learn from it and make any relevant changes for the better.
Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge,
But he who hates correction is stupid.
Here’s my general approach when someone wants to give me a home truth or two:
1. Be open to what they have to say.
Surrender your ego and let go your pride. Suck it up. Wisdom often comes through humility.
Keep a level head. Whether it’s your wife, friend or enemy. Do not interrupt. Only ask questions when they’re done. Ask only to clarify and glean further understanding. Have no agenda other that to get all the truth you can. The more you listen to them (and yourself) the more you will learn. The more you learn the more you can use it to grow.
3. Be grateful.
As hard as it can be, thank them. After all, they’ve just helped you (even if you don’t realize that yet). Your attitude will determine how you will handle their truth.
4. Apply it.
Take what you’ve learned and use to your advantage. All advice is useful. Keep what you need. Discard the rest. Correct yourself quickly before some else does painfully.
Taking it on the chin is integral to our growth as men, as husbands, as fathers, as leaders and as followers. Whenever we must face the truth about ourselves, let’s face it like men and use it to our advantage and those who depend on us. The more we do, the better men we become.
Ask those who matter most to you to give you some home truths. Sit down. Welcome what they have to share.
Originally appeared at Leading Men Only