Originally from West Valley City, UT, Mike Brady currently resides in Chubbuck, ID, adjacent to where his amazing wife Chelsie grew up. Together they have five children and have heard every “Brady Bunch” joke in the book. Mike has served in various capacities, but a couple of his all-time favorites have been substitute teaching in Primary and teaching youth Sunday School. His BA in International Studies which doesn’t do much in the IT industry where he works as a software product manager for Salt Lake City-based Samaritan Technologies. His passions include dating his wife, playing with those five aforementioned children, NBA basketball, and writing long emails to his bishop.
The Problem: Blind Spots
Several years ago I worked with a bishop who welcomed very candid feedback. He gave those who worked with him the space to disagree, and even encouraged contrary points of view. One day he said something that I’ve given much thought to over the years regarding how essential it is for leaders to understand their own strengths and limitations.
Perhaps a few months after being called as bishop, he asked one morning in bishopric meeting, “I’ve served as counselor to multiple bishops, and with each of them I used to get stopped in the hallway by ward members as they gave me feedback about how the bishop could do better. I silently agreed with some of the comments, and disagreed with others. But now that I’m the bishop, nobody is stopping me in the halls like they used to, yet I know that people have opinions on how I can improve. Some of what they say may not be useful, but some must be spot-on. I feel a great need to be better than I am. So: what are you hearing about me?”
Contrast his approach with others you and I have worked with and observed. In giving the benefit of the doubt, we don’t assume the person is consciously trying to (dominate a meeting, be opinionated, value process over people, be an accidental diminisher, and so on). We trust and hope that they are doing their best in the only way that they know how, yet still have blind spots which prevent them from mastering aspects of effective leadership that we, the followers, may value and need in a leader—and so are perhaps a little harder on them than we ought to be.
The objective of this article focuses on blind spots and incompetence, but not in our leaders. This article is about the self-awareness that my bishop demonstrated those years ago, and my hope is that the people reading this will include themselves as a member of the intended audience of these words. The irony here is that those who are willing to entertain a statement like “please open yourself up to feedback”, are not really in the intended audience. So, how does one deliver a message on self-awareness and incompetence to people who are not self-aware enough to admit that they have incompetencies?
I don’t know! But here goes…
For starters, there is a gem of a verse wherein the Lord offers both praise and counsel to William E. McLellin, who would later become an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the newly-restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
We read in Doctrine and Covenants 66:3:
“Verily I say unto you, my servant William, that you are clean, but not all; repent, therefore, of those things which are not pleasing in my sight, saith the Lord, for the Lord will show them unto you.”
Focus on the words “the Lord will show them unto you”. It does not say that “the world will show them” or “your bishop will show them”… or even “your spouse”.
Meaningful calls for improvement should come from the Lord through the Holy Ghost. As those around us suffer through our incompetencies, perhaps they see only the symptoms of our mistakes. But God knows their roots and causes, and that is where he does his work. One might say to me “you’re opinionated!” and another might say “you don’t listen well!” But the Lord would say “Mike, if you loved yourself more, you would have real confidence, and wouldn’t need to push others so hard. Work on seeing yourself as I see you, and your self-worth and confidence will grow. You won’t have such a need to be seen and heard by others because you’ll know that I see and hear you.”
I think you sense the difference. I can become both less opinionated and a better listener (and probably jettison a host of other shortcomings) by working on the trouble spot shown to me by the Lord. And besides, spiritual reprimands are always coupled with feelings of hope and encouragement—always.
Reprimands which come from any other source, even ourselves, can be accompanied with counterproductive feelings of defensiveness and guilt. They do not inspire, and may leave one feeling unworthy. They sap hope rather than feed it.
Certainly the Lord uses neighbors, bishops, family members, and others as messengers who tell us words. When that neighbor, bishop, spouse, etc., delivers those words out of love and are inspired by God to do so, then we experience the Holy Ghost, and we feel and know the “things which are not pleasing in [His] sight”. Our change will be the organic kind that lasts because the desire and motivation will be intrinsic, via the Spirit, as opposed to making superficial changes while trying to repair a relationship that we’ve strained due to our imperfections. Not that that’s bad, but let’s start at the roots and go from there.
A second scripture to consider is found in 2 Nephi 2:14, where a dying Father Lehi explains agency: that we are agents, and that one of our purposes is to be proactive, rather than reactive—to act, rather than be acted upon. (2 Nephi 2:14) Here is where we take charge of our lives; we are proactive in improving our discipleship and seek to be “possessed of charity” (see Moroni 7:47), rather than responding to every feeling of inadequacy shoved in our face by the Adversary. Additionally, when we proactively seek self-improvement, the Lord in his mercy, isn’t going to dump the entire load of brick on us all at once. If we knew every last fault and foible, we would be crushed. No, he has his own logic and approach to helping us out of our telestial behaviors—if we partner with him.
How does one proactively improve behavior? It starts with a celestial mindset and vision…
The Solution: One Method Toward Self-Awareness
As stated, the Lord might inspire another person to be the messengers of loving feedback to help us improve our hearts. The Lord might even send an angel from on-high (precedented but improbable), but if we aren’t open to the message, no amount of love or angelic interaction will make a shred of difference. We may respond poorly by becoming defensive or angry.
How can we train ourselves to be open to the Holy Ghost as the Lord tries to show us “those things which are not pleasing in [His] sight”?
The oft-quoted Doctrine and Covenants 112:10 and hymn (no. 130) come to mind:
“Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers”.
“Be humble” can be vague, though. Perhaps like me, you prefer something more concrete. Nearly 14 years ago a workplace mentor introduced me to “The Four Stages of Competency”. This model is easy to remember and has extremely useful practical application. You can find books on the topic in several sections of your library, from self-help to personnel management to pedagogy, but here’s a great entry-level source: Wikipedia!
The stages have us start in our blind spot, then through effort and practice would have us mastering our weakness. I’ll use a variable here, Behavior X (BX), to represent my blind spot, and yours. I would encourage you to take a moment to consider what your BX could be. Chances are that you already know it, because you’re in tune. Maybe you had an unpleasant interaction with a fellow church member and have been wondering what your part in the conflict was. But before we proceed through the stages, please identify the BX that you would like to correct.
Is your BX that you interrupt or talk over others in ward council? Maybe you’re not assertive enough, or are passive-aggressive. Perhaps you are excellent with people and are well-loved, but you can’t organize a desk drawer, let alone a ward Christmas party.
Here are the stages:
- Unconscious Incompetence: The blind spot: we’re bad at BX, and we don’t even know it. BX acts on us, in conflict with the principle Lehi taught in 2 Nephi 2:14..
- Conscious Incompetence: We have been shown our BX. We know it’s there, have accepted our weakness, and want to improve. But BX still acts on us in this early stage.
- Conscious Competence: Through hard work, prayer, an accountability mechanism, and ultimately the ability to grow afforded by Lord’s Atonement, we have been able to find a new and better alternative to BX, but we haven’t mastered it. We act on BX most of the time, yet it takes conscious effort—and BX still acts on us at times.
- Unconscious Competence: Our hard work combined with the grace of God has allowed us to truly change. We have formed habits and are no longer subject to behavioral relapses. We have seen how our change has improved our ability to lead; the comparison to our previous self has us value our new default behavior. We act on BX, completely and utterly, and are no longer “acted upon”.
Depending on the BX you have shown to you, you may feel daunted. But, according to the pattern we studied with William McLellin, if your BX is something you know to be inspired of God, this is where you must start. How does that old saying go? “Lasting change is never easy, and easy change never lasts.” Or there’s also “There’s no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.”
Also depending on your BX you may not know how to proceed, or even begin. Here is where an accountability mechanism is imperative. Here are some practices that have helped me. This list may be overkill for you and your strengths, or it might not be enough. Hopefully each of you will find something of use, though.
- Confess to the Lord. I don’t mean to imply that your BX is a sin. Maybe your BX is simply that you never get your agenda items on to the Ward Council Google Doc. If that’s it, I feel confident that your temple recommend is safe. But if that’s what you want to work on, go for it. Maybe your BX is a legitimate sin in the traditional definition. Wherever your BX falls on that spectrum, there is great power that comes in acknowledging your weakness before the Lord. Strip yourself bare, enter his presence through earnest prayer (perhaps in the womb that is the temple), and tell him your desires for overcoming. It’s more about developing a humble mindset through which the Lord can work than anything, including beating yourself up. Confess and ask for help “with real intent”—that is, you must intend to act on whatever prompting he gives you.
- Set up an accountability system a trusted friend. You need to tell somebody that you’re working on BX and ask them to help you. After your relationship with the Lord, this relationship will be your key to acting on BX. Speak to them about your hope that they hold you accountable. Ask them for “tough love”. If you need to setup a reporting schedule, do it. Or if your reporting means that you call them if you do BX again, great—but maybe ask them to call you if you haven’t checked in for a while.
- Stay consistent in accountability. If we allow ourselves to slip in this area, the process becomes drawn out. If it’s not working, either recalibrate with your friend or find somebody else. Again: accountability is key. Don’t skimp on this step.
- Understand that setbacks will occur. Try again. Forgive yourself. Apologize to others when necessary. But don’t lose hope. You don’t jump from “incompetence” to “competence” in a day. Some changes may take years. Some changes may require professional counseling because our behaviors started somewhere, and some reasons may be complicated. Be patient with yourself. The Lord is certainly patient with us, and when we put forth effort his Atonement is in effect. When learning to play a difficult piece on the piano, the only options aren’t (1) quitting or (2) Carnegie Hall. (I owe this analogy to Brad Wilcox.)
- Telegraph to others on a wider scale. When you feel comfortable that you have matriculated to stage three (conscious competence), you might have more confidence in letting others know about your journey. This is helpful for a number of reasons, a few of which include: increases your accountability circle; lets others know that you’re self-aware and trying; increases your confidence; inspires others to learn and act on their BX; and so many more. If you are a leader or have influence over others, my goodness, what an example you’re setting! Note: Depending on your BX, be wise here. It is entirely possible to over-disclose to those who don’t understand.
- Seek to help others with the same BX. Those in stage four (unconscious competence) are no longer being acted upon by BX. You own it! You are now equipped to mentor others who have the same BX. But please note that I said to “seek to help others”, and not simply “help others”. Don’t insert yourself into mentor-mode if not invited. You might be moved on by the spirit to address BX with somebody, and in that case you are answering somebody else’s prayer—the Lord is working through you. But minus that inspiration and prompting, you are likely going against the principle we learned in the William McLellin verse above.
Again, these are things that I have done. One size may not fit all, so if you disagree with some of these actions, feel free to discard and adjust to your personality and situation.
Experience This story has to do with my weaknesses, and an opportunity I thought I saw to help another person. I observed that he struggled with the same BX that I have (I’m still in stage three). I wanted him to avoid mistakes I made.
A young husband who moved into my ward some years back. As I got to know him, I really liked him at first. I was assigned as his family’s home teacher, yet as I spent more time with him, he started to turn me off. Others in the ward spoke poorly of him and he struggled to make friends. The reason? Because he was like me! He was capable in many areas, yet flaunted his gifts because he wasn’t secure enough to simply be happy to have and use them for the benefit of others. Instead he used them to draw attention to himself. Oh man, he was just like me!
Once I realized this, I had a frank prayer, which went like this:
Me: Father, John (not real name) is a good, good person, with so much to offer. He and his wife are a great benefit to the ward, but he is not making friends due to his overt personality. I think he is just like me: trying to feel good about himself. I have learned some about myself. I used to have difficulty making friends because I was so annoying, and I see John making the same mistakes. He’s a good guy, and I feel that I have some advice to offer. Father, listen, I’m his home teacher. Does that give me any kind of stewardship over him? Should I approach him with this topic? I really want to prevent him from the pitfalls of his ways…
Answer: Mike, your stewardship over him as his home teacher is to encourage him—make sure he is in the scriptures, in the temple, and on his knees. If he is doing those things, I will reveal to him what he is doing poorly, and how to change. Mike, that’s my job, not yours.
Lessons I learned here are:
- Reinforced my testimony that I can speak with God and he will speak back.
- The Lord does the teaching, not Mike Brady.
- Don’t take it upon yourself to seek the improvement of others.
Conclusion In review, here are the bullet points:
- We are all flawed. Worry about yourself.
- Be humble.
- Let the Lord be the source of your feedback.
- Take initiative in self-correction: act, seek not to be acted upon.
- Work on self-awareness: the Four Stages of Competence.
- Use others to hold yourself accountable.
- Go easy on yourself. You’re trying!