Around 5 years ago I went on a week’s field trip with a group of Grade 5 students. While there, a group of administrators from another local school came to visit the centre to see if it would be a possible venue for their own school trips. One of these administrators asked me the question, “What’s it like working for a megalomaniac?” The question took me back a bit as it was so direct and also very difficult to answer. This question is also addressed by Dr. Cloud in his chapter on transcendence.
Cloud writes that some people live as if they are the centre of the universe and put a lot of effort into building their own little kingdom. This called to mind an interview question I was asked once. The question was “Where will you be in 5 years time?” and my response back to the Director of the school was “Where will you be?” His answer was interesting: he told me that he had just taken over the school and that in 5 years he would still be there. The words he used were something like, “I’m not going to spend my time building a good school and then hand it over to someone else.” In retrospect this should have rung some warning bells, but unfortunately it didn’t.
Cloud writes quite extensively in his book Integrity about this trait of narcissism. It is displayed in grandiosity, omnipotence, extreme selfishness, exploitiveness, overestimation of one’s talents or importance, feelings of entitlement and egocentricity. It is based on arrogance, selfishness and pride, where we are the kingpin in a little world of our own making. The results are likely to be shallow, toxic and destructive.
Successful people are the opposite of narcisstic – they are what Cloud refers to as transcendent as they realize there are things bigger than them and that their life is about finding their role in the big picture. The people we love being around are those who throw themselves into the mission of greater good. Cloud writes, “It is the big things, not ourselves, that make us big. As we join them, we become larger. The paradox is that to join things bigger than us, we have to humble ourselves and become “smaller”. When we realize we exist for them and not them for us, we grow into greatness. The greatest people are the ones who have not sought greatness, but served greatly the causes, values and missions that were much bigger than them.”
Bigger things that transcend us are our values – the things that guide our behavior. In my role in technology one of the values I have is respect for other people’s creations. This means using only legally purchased software, for example. The day I was told to use illegal software in a previous job, was the day I was determined to leave. Living in a beautiful country and earning lots of money could no way compensate for going against my core values.
Cloud writes about the importance of awareness: people who live for bigger things know that bigger exists, and this awareness leads to action. He tells us “values without visible expression of those are not worth much”.
I have been reading Dr Henry Cloud’s book Integrity as part of ASB’s summer read. The book has taken me on a journey that has made me reflect on my own values relative to past experiences. Reflection is always good if it leads to new learning and insights. Some of the things I have faced while reading this book have not been pleasant, however I would recommend it and am looking forward to our discussions once I’m back at school. Here are some of the most important paragraphs that I have found in the book.
Practice Without Catastrophic Results
“If you have not had a safe place to develop different aspects of who you are, and to practice in ways that your career or life is not at risk, you have probably not developed certain character traits. In some ways you have been in survival mode, and that is not the mode in which we usually develop new aspects of character, other than perseverance. New skills require openness, but survival requires protecting oneself. That is why in fear-based corporate cultures, people often do not grow in new ways. They are too busy guarding themselves and watching their back.”
Proper Structured Feedback
“The “boss” relationship should be just this way: observe, give feedback, coach, mentor and grow. Instead too often it falls into the “ignore and zap” mentality. Bosses ignore people’s patterns until the problem is too much, then they come down hard or fire them. Firing should never, ever be a surprise. It should be the end of a process that has attempted to give lots of corrective feed back. When this process goes right, firing does not happen, but growth does. Character thrives on feedback that is focused and used well.”
Support That Does Not Enable
“In character growth the road is sometimes rocky. We have to swallow our pride, our egos, our resistance, and sometimes just bite the bullet and hear things we don’t want to hear … Sometimes it can be so tough that you either want to quit or think that you can never master what you are being told to do. So at those times we also need the arm around our shoulder. We need support and encouragement to do the hard thing. We need the push to keep going. To know that a leader or someone cares about us can help us to do the hard next step. If we know we have someone on our team it changes everything. But this support has to be of a certain nature. It has to side not only with us as people, but also with our need to grow. The best support people …. do not enable us to remain the same by rescuing us … they caringly walk alongside us, but hold us to the path at the same time.”