Brutal Honesty

honestyMy old Company Commander (CO), Mike, was a former Drill Instructor who could cut someone to pieces with words.  Lance Corporal Jones, although tough, was in downward spiral and Mike needed to get his attention. After his counseling session with Mike, Jones was broken.

Lance Corporal Jones only had a year left on his contract but was looking at a less than honorable discharge for his multiple infractions. Mike was the type of guy who made sure everybody paid the price for being a Marine. He wasn’t going to let Jones walk out of the Marine Corps as a dirt bag and allow him to claim that he was a good Marine.

It is well known in the military that a less than honorable discharge from the service is a death sentence in the civilian world. Lance Corporal Jones had a police job lined up and he knew that without that honorable discharge he was doomed. Mike verbally abused and yelled at the Jones for close to 30 minutes, the only way a former Drill Instructor can…and Jones was shaken.  After that meeting Jones, shaped up and got his honorable discharge.

Mike was not a proponent of the Dale Carnegie school of “How to win friend and influence people.”  He was in the business of training Marines and making sure they were well trained. He was a combat veteran and had won 2 bronze stars for heroism in combat. So he knew that training Marines well today meant less casualties tomorrow.

My relationship with him at the time was rocky at best but I had to admit I’ve never  met a better leader than he. I needed to be better and he made certain that I was.

Whenever I think of Mike it reminds me of the quote, “The person who is brutally honest enjoys the brutality as much as the honesty.” That was Mike. He loved the brutality of life and the disciplining of oneself. So whenever Mike felt I wasn’t measuring up to my responsibilities, he let me have it. No one was spared his wrath.

When Mike left the unit, I think the whole unit breathed a sigh of relief at not having to deal with him anymore. His presence was all encompassing and suffocating although the results spoke for themselves. A few years later I left the service and ended up working on Wall Street but took with me the lessons I had learned form him.

My first few years on Wall Street were a struggle and I knew I needed help. Although I was making money, I was not able to get the next job that would advance my career. So I hired a linguist who was expert in communications.  She was a short, stout, older Filipino woman who had been a Doctor at Stanford. Her demeanor and appearance suggested a gentle and caring soul but boy was I in for a shock.

Our first meeting was very informal in nature but when I went to the second meeting she ripped into me for the sloppy way I wrote and spoke. She had me write a one page letter about my job and with that one letter she was able to completely analyze me for who I was. I came to the unfortunate conclusion that  she was right on all counts.

In many ways, she reminded me of Mike. This became second encounter with someone being brutally honest.. Our counseling sessions were quite painful as learning under Mike’s command had been. At the time, I wondered what was it about me that made me attract these experiences? Or, perhaps, was  the universes preparing me for what lay ahead?

The linguist counselor died three years later. In those three years, she taught more about language, speech and the power of influence that have stayed with me until this day. After a particularly long session with her one night I said, “I finally understand what you have been  trying to say to me.” She glared at me and replied, “Never tell anybody that you understand them. To understand something means to “stand under’ them. That word takes away your power and gives power to them.

What I learned during these sessions, that although language can be subtle, the cumulative effect of using words that are not precise can leave the person hearing my words to doubt the power of my message.  Now that I have worked on trading desks for the majority of my life, I can attest to the power of using language that is concise and to the point.

The fact is both of these people had a huge influence in my life.  I do believe it was my willingness to stand naked in front of them and receive their instruction that benefited me.  I was fortunate enough to have had people willing to correct me and point the way.

I see this every day in my kids schools where parents go out of their way to protect their children from the harsh realities that await them in the real world. Grade inflation in the school system is so prevalent that it has its own section in Wikipedia.  We now have a whole class of students and parents that are unwilling to hear the truth that their children are not “measuring up”. So instead of opting for the truth, we just raise the scores for everyone

The only way to move forward in any endeavor in life is by having people in your life who are brutally honest. Short of that you’re likely to be surrounded by sycophants,who support you in living a fantasy devoid of reality and growth.

Steve