Hello, my name is Jeff, and I am a people-pleasing perfectionist. There, I’ve admitted it. They say that the first step is to admit you have a problem, so I am acknowledging that I do. I am hampered by the combination of fearing conflict, while struggling to admit my mistakes. This tendency results in me doing everything I can to avoid making mistakes in front of others, and having a very difficult time accepting my mistakes when I do make them (and as much as I have tried to deny it over the years, I do make them – and often). For much of my life, this tendency restricted my ability to learn and grow.
However, as I have matured and gained experience, I have come to see this in myself, and have recognized its detriment to my leadership development. I have learned the value (and importance) of being teachable, and the problem with not being willing to accept my failings. The result has been that I have learned to listen to rebukes, criticisms, and corrections in order to grow and get better.
Two different experiences provide the bookends that illustrate this lesson in my life. The first took place over fifteen years ago, in my initial experience as the headmaster of Christian school. I was still very shackled by my people-pleasing perfectionism, so I was working tirelessly to do everything right, and fearing the thought of making mistakes or facing conflict. So when I was called into a meeting with the chairman of the board as a result of some parent complaints, I was dreading the confrontation. I blamed the chairman and the parents, and I looked for every possible way to justify my own actions. But then, as I was talking to my father before the meeting, he encouraged me to look beyond the messenger, and to choose to look for what I needed to learn in order to get better. This was the beginning of my steps to learn how to accept criticism for my own betterment.
The second experience took place in the last year, as I reached the halfway point of my first year as the new headmaster of a different Christian school. It was time for my initial performance evaluation from the board of directors, and they had taken time to survey a representative group of faculty, parents, and students. As they prepared to go over the evaluation with me, I still had some amount of internal anxiety, because of my temperament and personality; however, I also had learned how to welcome criticism as valuable for my growth. Therefore, when they went over both the areas of strength and of growth, I was able to see them in truth, and to receive them for what they were: counsel that was intended to help me be the best leader I could be for this school, delivered with honesty and out of a desire to help me succeed.
There are a couple of verses in book of Proverbs that I have come across recently that have reminded me of this particular truth:
- ”Rebuke is more effective for a wise man than a hundred blows on a fool.” Proverbs 17:10
- “The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise.” Proverbs 15:31
These two verses together point out the value of learning from correction, and how this characteristic is reflective of a truly wise person. Interestingly, they show that correction can come either in intentional forms – rebuke or criticism (whether intended to be constructive or not) from others – or unintentional forms – the circumstantial failures and crashes that happen in life (whether anticipated or not). Regardless of how it comes, a wise person will recognize it for what it is: an opportunity to learn and grow.
This is what I had come to in the intervening years since that first experience as a headmaster. Now, years later, as I faced the prospect of my first performance review in a new headmaster role, I had these verses in mind and was able to receive them as a wise man would. I knew that I needed to do this intentionally in order to grow, so now I was able to welcome it instead of dread it. The result was that I was able to listen, receive correction, and become a better leader for my school, and at the same time, the board’s confidence in me also grew as a result of my teachability.
Do you want to be considered a wise man or woman? Learn to embrace correction, accepting its value for your leadership development. Then, if you listen, you will learn.