Harshness Reflects the Hidden You

gauge measuring volts

One of the my favorite weeks of the year is the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Work seems to wind down, while time with family winds up. Having three kids (9-7-4 respectively) our house was full of energy this year. Unlike other years, however, we had nowhere to go. This combination worked well about 95% of the time, but the other 5% was more indicative of me than our family.

If you haven’t noticed in my other posts, I am a type-A driven leader. My natural inclination is to wake up early and start working the “plan.” Our 9 year old is my junior in this sense. He gets up early, gets his plan done, and he even voices displeasure at how messy the house (sometimes) gets. More so, he organizes and cleans the house himself because “he cannot stand it” (Our parenting book entitled, “Making Children Work For You” hits stores in the Spring – just kidding). Meanwhile, our other two kids are awesome and profound in their own ways, but not as concerned with how orderly the house is.

I mention all this because it sets the scene for my frustration with our kids just being kids one afternoon during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. By kids being kids, I mean three kids running around the house (a clear violation of our house rules – running is only allowed in the basement!), and making things messy. Even our 9 year old gave into temptation and allowed things to go (trust me, he would have cleaned it all up later!). I do not know if it was the cloudy skies outside, or the cabin fever inside, but I turned into a caricature of a grumpy old man. The next thing I knew I was barking orders at the kids that were akin to Clint Eastwood yelling, “get off my lawn.” While some of my lines made Sarah chuckle — she is too kind to say such things — the words were overly harsh. I soon felt convicted that the harsh words said towards the kids were more an indication of where my heart was rather than their actions. This realization led me to do two things: journal and ask for forgiveness.

Pete Scazzero stresses the importance of journaling on the “iceberg,” in his book, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” 80% of an iceberg is below the surface of the water and Scazzero contends 80% of our emotions are hidden inside us, or below our surface. So, the act of journaling about what we are feeling helps us not only understand what we are feeling, but frees us from being enslaved to those feelings. Or, in my case above, from lashing out at my kids for no good reason. Four questions that help in this process are: What are you mad about? What are you sad about? What are you anxious about? And, what are you glad about?

Answering these questions is vital for leaders because they cannot lead others well without understanding what is going on inside themselves. Let that sink in. Leaders cannot lead others well without understanding what is going on inside themselves. If 80% of your car’s engine was not attuned to your steering wheel, how safe would that car be? Driving down a rural street absent from people might not be too much of a problem and could even be fun for a while. But, take that car into a city where there are people present and disaster awaits. Leadership always involves other people. So, if you are out-of-touch with 80% of yourself, how can you keep from running over those you are attempting to lead?

This brings me back to the second thing I did, ask for forgiveness. One of the things I want to model as a parent is my willingness to say I am sorry and mean it. This is why I mess up so often (I wish!). Whether it is “tossing” a golf club down in their presence, saying a naughty word when the refs blow a call in the football game we are watching, or saying a harsh thing to them as in the above, I always ask for forgiveness. More so, I explain why what I did was wrong in the first place. In the above, I did emphasize the importance of safety (no running), while also giving them space to be kids and make a mess for the time being (my issue). We then all went downstairs to the basement and had a blast!

Before closing, I also want to model this in leadership. I have said harsh things to direct reports in the past and asked for forgiveness. Maybe, this is your application today. If there is someone in your life you need to apologize to, I suggest you stop reading this post and go apologize.

I close with this reminder, harsh words said to others often reflects the hidden you. When you feel, and say, harsh words, I challenge you to ask why? What are you mad about? Sad about? What hurt from the past is bubbling up? Or, what resentment do you need to process in your journal, or with someone else over coffee?

Doing this kind of internal work is not glamorous. But, leaders are always the kinds of people that do the things no one else wants to do, especially the work on the inside of themselves. They do this because in order to be someone worth following, they need to orient 100% of themselves towards other human beings. While the work of emotional health is always ongoing, the process and self-actualization described above helps leaders stay focused on those they are leading.