(William Baldwin): “What is one big mistake that you’ve made in your life and what did you do to make it right?”
(Miss Philippines, Maria Venus Raj): “…There is nothing major, major, I mean problem that I have done in my life…”
(at the 2010 Miss Universe Pageant)
There is one theme that crops up again and again– in business books, in newspaper columns, even in the Miss Universe Pageant. Here is the theme: people do not know (or understand, or grasp, or “face”) their own weakness(es).
I first grasped the depth of this problem in reading Peter Senge years ago. He worded it this way:
“People with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence, and their growth areas.”
And in a recent revisiting of the great book Encouraging the Heart: A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner, I read of it again:
We saw, over and over again, that leadership doesn’t depend on mystical qualities or inborn gifts but rather on the capacity of individuals to know themselves, their strengths, and their weaknesses, and to learn from the feedback they get in their daily lives – in short, their capacity for self-improvement.
Leadership development is self-development… To know what to change in our lives, we need to understand what we’re doing that is getting the results we want and what we’re doing that is not.
And now, again this week, David Brooks, in his NY Times column A Case of Mental Courage, has these paragraphs (excerpted):
In this atmosphere, we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Occasionally you surf around the Web and find someone who takes mental limitations seriously. For example, Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” He and others list our natural weaknesses: We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.
But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse.
To use a fancy word, there’s a metacognition deficit. Very few in public life habitually step back and think about the weakness in their own thinking and what they should do to compensate. A few people I interview do this regularly (in fact, Larry Summers is one). But it is rare. The rigors of combat discourage it.
Of the problems that afflict the country, this is the underlying one.
Here are my reflections:
#1 – You do have deficiencies. There is some error, some mistake, some incompleteness in the way you think, act, work. If you think you are perfect, then I hate to tell you, but people will not trust you, you will not be as successful as you could be at helping others grow and develop, and you will not win the Miss Universe crown.
#2 – Spotting your weakness(es) takes great courage. Good luck.
#3 – Spotting your weakness(es), and then working to correct it/them, is the best thing you can do for the next chapter of your business and personal life.
#4 – And, I hate to tell you this, but when you spot that next weakness, there will be another one to tackle after that, and then another, and still another….
And, yes, this post is, of course, written to me also.