“If you’re so smart, why did you do the same thing again?” Marie Thomas, mother of the highly esteemed Dr. L. Todd Thomas, BA, MA, MS, PhD.
My mother will turn 93 years old this year. And while there have been many things she has said to me over the years (trust me on this), the question listed above has stuck with me for a long time. I think this actually had to do with a personal relationship I was in, but the sentiment seems to apply on many levels.
For example, a few of you have commented that you like the Leadership Matters Now blog although at times you feel you should pull out your “red pencil” and correct some of the spelling and grammar. Although I have heard this numerous times, I always filed it away as something I should fix when I had some extra time. No big deal. But then this weekend I went through every post from the last year looking for all of the editing that should have been completed before publishing. What a humbling experience! What I thought was going to be a one hour job took me probably five hours to complete because there were many more posts with careless errors than there were posts without them.
On occasion I have described myself as a writer and I have had the experience of editing many times. I go nuts sometimes over the lack of care given by some of my students in their writing as it appears to me that they simply aren’t putting in the effort when they give me work that is sloppy, grammatically incorrect or full of misspelled or misplaced words. So how could it be that I am not only guilty, but repeatedly guilty of the very thing I detest in other people’s writing?
While there are no adequate excuses, of course, there is one reason that is at least interesting to consider. When we communicate with others, either through writing or verbally, we are fully aware (usually) of what we intend to communicate. Understanding our own intent is like reading the final chapter of a novel before reading the first part of the book. We have the distinct advantage of knowing what the end result is supposed to be which means it is easy to ignore the path being taken to get there.
This post is not about editing, by the way. It’s about our tendency to give ourselves much more credit for what we intend to accomplish than anybody else will give us for how we go about accomplishing it. We fill in the gaps for ourselves that we don’t fill in for others because we know what should be there, whether it is or not. This is why leaders have to have people around them who are willing to point out their inconsistencies and errors along the way. This is also why a little dose of humility goes a long way. While it is fine to be confident in one’s abilities, it is also a problem when we believe that our skillset cannot be improved. Complacency is the enemy of effectiveness.
Now, if you’ll excuse me for posting this a little late, I need to read it again several times to make sure I have it right.