Socially Acceptable Cynicism
Building a quality business team requires a sufficient degree of mutual trust. Yet, if you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve learned to be at least marginally skeptical.
We seldom get the complete picture the first time we interact with someone. Insurance companies rarely if ever give their best offer to begin with. The original sales pitch normally paints the absolute best possible and therefore almost always unrealistic scenario. The final price regularly involves charges or expenses not originally revealed.
So with time, seasoned business leadership becomes reflected in a socially acceptable form of cynicism. You can feel it in your conversations – so much so that Citi Card has made a commercial about it.
A couple at the end of their date smiles as he opens the cab door for her.
“I’ve had a wonderful time tonight,” she reflects
“Me, too.” He smiles back
“Call me tomorrow?”
“I’m going to send you a vague text in a couple of days that leaves you confused about my level of interest.”
“I’ll wait a full two days before responding.”
To which he asks the rhetorical question, “We’re never going to see each other again – will we!?!”
Her quick assured reply, “No, no!”
Citi Cards conclusion, “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone said what they meant!?!”
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you identify fully with that commercial every time you “date” a business, potential associate, or sign a contract.
You may be far more legitimized in your concern than you know. In fact, the potential for being conned may be considerably closer than you realize… as close as yourself.
Our lack of complete transparency begins with the mirror. We are more than reluctant to be upfront with our own strengths and weaknesses. Strengths because we are concerned about the responsibility or risk that would entail if we acted on them. Weaknesses because we’re apprehensive about what that says of our ultimate competence and value.
Getting to the Truth
The obvious problem with this is you can’t build off of distortion. To put it positively, internal accuracy leads to joy, effectiveness, and obedience to your God-given design.
Since I’m going to be taking myself wherever I go, I need a clear picture of who I really am. Where can I trust myself and where do I tend to come up short? What can I build off of, and where do I need to shore up my limitations?
Are you gutsy enough to confront your strengths and weaknesses?
To begin with, I have a faith-based belief that you do have strengths. There are things that you are uniquely gifted at. No one comes up empty. You may not be using them well. They may have laid dormant. They could be languishing for lack of development. But you are gifted. You have real capabilities, and they are valuable.
My experience of teaming with and mentoring numerous people across three decades has corroborated this belief. To say our people are our greatest asset may be a misused byline by corporate pundits to appear less greedy, but it is nonetheless accurate.
You also have weaknesses. God looked at man after creating him, and his first thought after saying, “This is very good,” was, “It isn’t good for man to be alone.” You don’t do well solo.
Coasting doesn’t work either. Leaving yourself where you are isn’t advised. Obviously to win the strengths and weaknesses challenge you have to know what you are dealing with. Discovery is very achievable. Our problem is we just don’t do it. There is a latent hesitancy. Part of it is from an uneasiness about what we might find. Another is what it takes to get an accurate picture – the critique of others.
Strength tests tend to focus on what you like and dislike. They can be generically helpful. But far more valuable is feedback along the way. What do those closest to you say? Get specifics. Learn about your strengths. 360 degree feedback programs are becoming common, but you don’t need a program to get feedback.
By the way, you need to know your strengths and weaknesses. Since you’ve lived with yourself your entire life, you might assume this knowledge is instinctive, but we are surprisingly clueless about our real abilities and limitations. In addition, if you are living outside of your strengths, you are doing a disservice to yourself and others. You are likely occupying a position that someone else ought to be filling but cannot because you are in their way. And you are missing out on the place where you could excel.
As an encouragement, you are probably not as organizationally stuck as you think you are. Often our positions are defined by how we approach them. Merely changing how you approach your responsibilities (e.g., what you tackle and what you delegate) can change the entire tenor of your situation. And these decisions are best made with a clear understanding of who you are.
So how do you go about finding and responding to your strengths and weaknesses? Here are a seven keys to doing this well.
- Do it.
This is a highly overlooked part. Stop worrying about having to have a perfect assessment tool or grid to confirm what is accurate, and just do it. Begin actively pursuing ability mirrors that give insight into who you are.
- Utilize people.
One of the best mirrors is people. Find people that will partner with you by being mirrors. Three basic characteristics to look for in these people: (1) Who knows me best? (2) Who cares about me the most – whose opinion I can trust? (3) Who will be honest rather than telling me what they think I want to hear?
- Be specific.
The more precise you become, the more productive the feedback. There are many types of strengths. Each have numerous uses not all of which are universally applicable. And these uses have different degrees of effect.
Take the very basic example of coaching. Some people are naturally gifted in their ability to help people understand how to develop and implement skills. But within the category of coaching there are business coaches, financial coaches, sports coaches, etc. And while there may be carryover, you will tend to have a sweet spot.
Further, within your particular area, there are different levels. Some coaches are great at coaching youth, some adults. Some do best at the elementary level. Others work better at the professional level. Your abilities have a sweet spot – a best use. Again, get specific. Drill down into what your strengths or weaknesses are and how they function.
- Be candid and objective.
We all have dreams, wishes, hopes. We want to believe our fantasies are accurate.
A distraught lady approached her pastor. Upon being questioned, she revealed she was struggling with the problem of pride. “I have become too proud of my beautiful voice.” “Don’t be so distraught,” the pastor encouraged her. “You’re not proud. You’re mistaken.”
Candid, objective assessments do not need to discourage you. They just clarify where you are. You may have great potential beyond your present experience, but it is doubtful that all you need is the right opportunity. Most likely you need development or corrective focus.
Bossidy & Charan wrote in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done,
You cannot have an execution culture without robust dialogue – one that brings reality to the surface through openness, candor, and informality…
When people speak candidly, they express their real opinions, not those that will please the power players or maintain harmony…
When harmony prevails, here’s how things often get settled: after the key players leave the session, they quietly veto decisions they didn’t like but didn’t debate on the spot.
Candor unlocks opportunity.
- Don’t confuse character weakness with ability weakness.
You have certain ability weaknesses that are just part of who you are. You don’t need to change how you have been designed. But refuse to allow character weaknesses to remain. Lazy, undisciplined, dishonest character is not who you are. It may be what you have become, but these do not need to remain.
- Implement what you find.
Have the guts to respond to what you find. Live with the natural fear of what that says about you. You will get much farther with an honest assessment than attempting what is outside your capacity. In addition, you will enjoy life far more attempting to achieve what your skills make available than avoiding the risk of stepping out.
- Train, hire, or team in the area of your ability weaknesses.
To put it another way, invest in your strengths. Confront your weaknesses.
You are unique. Your design has value. Take advantage of it.