It’s often been said that it’s our scars that make us real. While all of us, I think, yearn for a smooth ride on our rollercoasters that magically only ascend until it’s time for what we hope is our greatest ascension that transcends our mortal existence, that’s just not reality. Life has plenty of those inevitable dips.
While sometimes we do everything correctly and the misfortunes that are our dips during life’s ride cause misfortune that can be anywhere from the annoying all the way to the catastrophic, there are also those times when it seems we just can’t get out of our own way, and we’re, as the bromide goes, our own worst enemy.
Much has been researched by those whose passion is psychology when it comes to what we human types do to ourselves to get in our own way. Psychologist Tom Brunner has spent considerable time analyzing people’s potential for greatness as well as their inhibitors, in other words, the traits they carry that prevent them from, as the Army says in the ads, being all they can be.
Brunner sees 10 character flaws that have the potential to derail us, even those of us with the best intentions, and they are enviousness, defensiveness, aloofness, volatility, eccentricity, entitlement, unreliable character, eagerness to please, moral scrupulosity and tendencies to issue destructive comments.
Brunner calls the above character flaws “thorns” or “derailers,” in other words, traits that prevent people from being great.
Of course, most of Brunner’s thorns are pretty evident as inhibitors to effective management style, and the flaws in the human condition are pretty easy to identify in so many who haven’t done a very good job of suppressing the destructive urges that prevent them from achieving at a far higher level. Among those on Brunner’s list, I was drawn to the last three — eagerness to please, moral scrupulosity and tendencies to issue destructive comments — as reasons to fall short of the person most of us would like to become.
On the surface, Brunner’s trait of eagerness to please seems like a positive. However, Brunner explains it this way: “You are more of a pleaser than an honest communicator. But your displeasure with things builds up and explodes at times.”
The psychologist’s explanation of moral scrupulosity, I also found interesting. Brunner’s clarification is as follows: “You find fault with even small misbehavior. No one meets every one of your rules. Your best friend is yourself.”
As for tendencies to issue destructive comments, Brunner explains it this way: “Needless sarcasm and cutting remarks erode any support you may have built up. Your relationships never ‘run deeper.’”
Brunner’s destructive traits should be of particular note to all in leadership roles, be they bosses, parents or teachers. While I left my primary career of teaching in 2005, I still think of my “boss” days often, and my attachment to my education days even after a baker’s dozen years removed will manifest itself in my dreams often. While I rarely if ever dreamt of school when I was going there each workday, the school-scenario genre is far and away nowadays my most common.
Looking back on my classroom days, I wonder periodically how effectively I avoided my own derailers. I sincerely wanted to be not just good but great at what I trained to do at Miami University. I know I certainly had a reputation as being pretty demanding although I hope I stopped short of Brunner’s moral scrupulosity.
Although my boss days are far behind me as my work now is that of more of a rank-and-file guy, I did find Dr. Brunner’s article quite interesting. It can be found in its entirety on his website, doctorbrunner.com.
For all of you bosses out there, and that includes parents and the teachers heading back into the classrooms this month, and all you traditional bosses, Brunner’s work provides some real food for thought.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.