I lead a business for a global company. I am very bright and hardworking, have risen fast, and continue to rise. I will probably end up being a senior leader for the company someday—if not here, then in another area.
My problem: I am a jerk. I have heard others describe me as such when they thought I wasn’t around. This isn’t news to me; I know I have a real problem connecting with others. People usually fail to live up to my expectations. In fact, my direct reports disappoint me regularly—so do my peers—and I make no bones about how I feel. I also have a hard time staying present in meetings because I am so busy matching what I think should be happening with what is actually happening.
I have read up on authenticity—but seriously, if I were to be truly authentic, I would be run out of town. Trying not to be nasty takes virtually all of my self-control.
How can I stop being so judgmental? How can I lighten up and be more present? How can I be nicer?
Rhymes with Witch
Dear Rhymes with Witch,
Wow. It sounds like it’s hard to be you right now. But here’s the good news: you are aware that you have a problem, which is half the battle. You possess valuable self-awareness and apparently have also developed some handy self-control. These are excellent prerequisites for change.
The next step is to get some clarity on why it is so important for you to be less judgmental, more present, and more kind. I use kind instead of nice because I believe there is a distinction. Here is an excerpt from Owen Fitzpatrick’s blog:
Being nice is when you are polite to people and treat people well. Being kind is when you care about people and show you care. Sometimes you can be kind to someone even though you aren’t nice to them—and you can certainly be nice to someone but also be unkind.
Here’s why the distinction between kind and nice is significant: Niceness is all fine and well, but it is superficial. It only requires a change in your behavior. You can Google “How to be nicer” and about a million good ideas will pop up for you. (I know this because I just did it.)
Kindness, though, has more depth, will help you go the distance, and will require a change in your character. If you are really signed up for the job of changing your character, you must first establish what makes it such a critical goal. Because it is hard work, my friend—worth it, but hard.
So what is the point for you? You are a superstar who could probably get away with being awful for the rest of your career. There is quite a bit of research that proves cleaning up your act would help ensure your rise to the top; but there are also plenty of rotten meanies at the top, everywhere.
In your case, your motivation may lie in how exhausted you get trying to control yourself and how hard it is to stay present as you indulge in your “judgy” ways. Or is it possible that it might actually bother you that people call you names when you aren’t around? If that happened to me, I would be crying in the ladies’ room. How did you feel when it happened to you? Either way, in order to change, you will need to hook into your motivation.
Once you have done that, you will really need to get help. You are striving for something hard and you will need a lot of support. Don’t ignore this part. You have come this far on your innate gifts, which has been relatively easy for you—if you had struggled mightily to overcome your shortcomings in the past, you probably wouldn’t be so judgmental. So do not try to go on this journey alone.
- Work with a therapist to get to the bottom of what may have shaped your meanie habits. Possibly you were judged harshly in your family of origin? There could be some value in going back to explore what got you here.
- Hire a coach to help you sift through all of the possible ways you could be more present and more kind, and to support you in finding a few methods that work for you.
- Discuss the whole thing with a friend who has your trust and respect.
- Look around for someone at work who might mentor you on this journey—someone who matches you in IQ, work ethic, and high standards, but who is warm and well liked.
It wouldn’t be overkill if you tried all of the above.
Once you get your support system set up, you might consider learning how to meditate or practice mindfulness to quiet your busy monkey brain. Think about small ways to manage yourself more effectively by building some new habits. But now I’m jumping the gun.
Begin by discovering what is so important about your becoming a better person. That will help you formulate the first step of how you are going to do it. This journey will humble you and it will be painful. You will get the stuffing beaten out of you as you walk this road, which will help you be more compassionate and empathetic toward others—and that’s the actual point, is it not?
I’m impressed you have come this far, RWW. Now comes the really hard part. Apply that formidable intellect and that implacable will, get a lot of help, and you might just make it.
You will need good luck, too, but I find that fortune favors the brave and those who genuinely want to be better.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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