I was driving west on Kessler Boulevard in Indianapolis, near where it passes under the Monon Trail and the right lane ends. In the left lane, mentally zoned out, I was cruising at or slightly above the speed limit.   I snapped out of my reverie when a driver sped past me in the right lane, then pulled in front of me before his lane ended. I felt a hot flash of anger. I sped up and started thinking about how I could pass him (over double yellow lines) and cut him off before the light at College Avenue. My blood was boiling.

Then, after about 5 seconds of rage, I remember thinking, “What are you doing, Neidigh? What do you care? He didn’t even make you slow down!” I calmed down and resumed a more sane speed.

A few days later, I was reflecting on this episode, trying to process through why I had reacted the way I did. It seemed like my anger was outside my own control—that I was compulsively refusing to let myself be passed by the other driver. That compulsion (to not be dominated) is a problem. It drives my emotions and actions, even when not in my (or others’) best interests.

As I look back at my life story, there are reasons that explain (but don’t justify) my compulsion. I had experiences growing up (in my family, with friends, at the Naval Academy, in the Marine Corps) that caused some wounds. Over time, I adopted “non-submission” as a defense mechanism to protect myself from getting hurt more. Wrapping that security blanket around me made sense at the time, but I think that as I have grown up, and not let it go, it has ended up choking me.*

I believe there are Four Hallmarks of Maturity:

  • Self-Awareness – understanding who we are, what makes us tick, and how we respond to the world
  • Others-Awareness – understanding who others are, what makes them tick, and how they respond to the world (especially how they respond to us)
  • Self-Control – deliberately choosing to act or not act in a particular way, as required by circumstances
  • Selflessness – valuing and sacrificially serving others

Not surprisingly, the best leaders are those who exhibit more maturity in these four areas.

Humans mature asymmetrically. Some aspects of our personality reflect “acting older than our age.” And some aspects reveal stunted growth, where we “act younger than our age.” In my own life, I’ve found a correlation between “woundedness” and immaturity. Where I’ve been hurt, and haven’t healed, I’ve grown more slowly. I’ve also found that those areas of immaturity are the areas where I tend to act compulsively– self-sabotaging as a leader.

I sometimes get tripped up on the tactics and techniques of leading, but these missteps pale in comparison to the mistakes I make that stem from my own immaturity. I don’t get too embarrassed about an error in an invoice due to my inattention to detail, but I’m mortified when I let a client executive’s aggressiveness bait me into a fight driven by my anger.

I’m ignorant of some areas of woundedness, but if I pay attention to my immature (compulsive) responses, I get clues that help me see myself more clearly.

The good news is that we don’t have to remain wounded. Where we’ve been hurt and have found healing, we grow stronger. We all are constantly in a position to choose to mature, throughout our lives.


Here are some practical questions we can ask ourselves, as we keep growing up:

  • What is a “self-sabotaging” misstep I’ve made as a leader? Does it link to an area of immaturity?
  • Do any past wounds impact my leadership? What would healing look like?
  • Am I behaving compulsively in any area of my leadership? What’s driving that?

One of the fruits that maturity bears is peace—the ability to tolerate more adversity before being knocked off-center. Everyone has a limit to what they can handle, and each of us will throughout our lives be tested. But when we are knocked off-center, will we heal and grow, or remain wounded? That’s the choice, every time we face new adversity.

* Hat tip to Rob Loane for introducing this concept to me.

46 Comments

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  1. Nice read and sincerer reflections that I/we can benefit from. Thanks Chip for sharing this as it really resonates within myself.
    -Brad

  2. Thanks, Chip! I particularly liked the four hallmarks of maturity, and as I read them, I see them as a continuous opportunity for personal growth. I know I can grow in each of those areas, and I sense it would be very hard to get to the final hallmark (selflessness) without being really “mature” in the first three areas! Thoughtful and provocative challenge–well done!

    • Thanks for your comment, Wil. I also think sometimes increased selflessness can provide us the motivation to become more self-aware, others-aware, and exercise more self-control. Chicken or egg?

  3. Kairos team, I’m loving the fresh perspective on emotional IQ – the hallmark of maturity… And I’m wondering if “others awareness” can come before “self-control”… Is the hallmarks of maturity linear?

    Good stuff!

    • RH+, thanks for the encouragement! I surmise that sometimes we need greater awareness of our impact on others (especially if it is a negative impact) before we’re motivated to control ourselves (change a behavior).

  4. Well said, Chip. I don’t expect to see this in Reef Points anytime soon, but it ought to be there.

    Brady

  5. Chip,
    When I read the first paragraph, I immediately thought of a friend who got a speeding ticket when mowing his lawn. Ha! That’s why I wrote the book.
    All the best1 Bud

  6. Great read, Chip. Thank you for sharing and articulating this topic so well. Compulsive responses are, indeed, a window to uncovering powerful truths. I look forward to catching up soon.

  7. wonderful insight. I find that driving is a clear test of my current state of mind. The anger, or tolerance I express to others is such a “canary in the coal mine for me”.

    I have the opportunity to speak to senior leaders each day, and it is universal that what separates adequate from good to even great is ones ability to manage their (and others) emotions.

    Great article

    Henry

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      I’ve never thought about driving as a test of my state of mind, but it is obvious, now that you point it out. Probably because my driving style creates so much adversity for me. :)

    • Great insight Henry!

      I hadn’t considered that before, but it’s so true. Now the question is, what will I do with this information?

      Will I pay attention and “catch” myself when not in the best of moods so I can make a conscious choice to better prepare for interactions with others? Or will I just ignore it and blindly let frustration or irritability leak out into my behavior once I reach my destination?

      Important decisions and observations ahead…

  8. Kristina Craft Overstreet

    So simple yet so powerful, Chip! Love the Hallmarks and personally try to improve upon them consistently. Can’t imagine limiting my personal growth due to immaturity or sheer stubbornness! Thanks for a great read and the points for self reflection.

  9. Great post Chip. You sum things up in a way that we can all relate to, and force us to do a little introspection along the way. Kudos to Kairos!

  10. The read was pretty reflective to me….. I have a philosophy that “good leaders are those that are great at who they are” AND “are good at making others great at who THEY are”. The hallmarks of maturity really articulate that invitation to leadership greatness that we extend to ourselves and others.

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      Dave, thanks for that insight. I’ve heard the word “particularization” used to describe that process (becoming who we’re designed to be or helping others become who they are designed to be). That seems to capture that invitation you mention.

  11. Love this post! Very insightful and mature. :-) Really appreciate your humble attitude. That definitely shows mature leadership. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Chip,

    I love this! I plan to have my 8th graders read the essay & reflect on their own growth as leaders.

    Also, your four ‘Hallmarks of Maturity’ reflect what I’ve learned in my studies about human development & morality – humans start as ego-centric & doing what works for ME right NOW. Then we move to including the needs of others. Sometimes people get caught on just doing what is RIGHT instead of digesting & analyzing things. Hopefully we all eventually reach an ultimate level of maturity/ethics where we do what is right because it is right for everyone NOT because someone said so. :)

    Thanks for sharing your growth!

    Mary

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      Mary, thanks for the encouraging words. Keep pouring into those 8th graders– leadership development is such an important part of their journey. That you expect them to lead is one of my favorite aspects of Sidener!

    • Mary – I LOVE how you’re getting 8th graders to see themselves as leaders. It’s an important developmental perspective. All of us have opportunities to lead in different capacities. I immediately thought of 1 Timothy 4:12, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

  13. Great post, Chip. Thanks for sharing. It can be amazing for folks to learn how they’ve beaten themselves, or others, up through their own emotional injuries. The guidance you share can definitely help others to overcome those injuries in order to heal and grow!

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      Thanks, Mike. We’re all walking wounded. Remembering it keeps us humble and hopefully leads us to gracious responses.

  14. I comment out loud in my car when I experience bad driving. It’s definitely a selfish lack of control for me. Very hard to extend grace on the road. But I’m working on it. Thanks for all the insights. Well said.

  15. Agreed.

  16. Well written Chip! I agree that we all (me included) are affected by our wounds and the mechanisms we developed to handle stress. A leader faces adversity knowing he has help from his team to overcome it. I’ll bet you could also write a good post on giving and receiving help. Thank you Chip!

    • Thanks Chip! Your article reminds me the old saying “no matter where we go, there we are”. Maturity is a journey, I wish mine had fewer speed bumps…..

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      Good thought, Doug; thanks. I find that many who lead their organizations experience a sense of isolation– it’s lonely at the top. There is clearly great opportunity in living more as a community (and less as isolated individuals) within the leadership ranks of our organizations.

  17. I am so pleased to have found your company’s blog today and within it such a personal account with useful-knowledge one can apply for growth. Thank you!

  18. Chip, too bad the guy who flipped me off today on 65 S for no apparent reason won’t read this…
    Like others, I appreciate your candid transparency in something we all deal with–wounds, maturity and how we handle both. Your reflections are not to be passed over quickly or lightly. As such, I will share with others in an effort to continue on my own maturity journey.

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      I find many who live near Beech Grove have that tendency. Just kidding. But I wonder what his story was? (Everyone is fighting their own battles.)

      Also, I’m sure it was a character-building opportunity for you, to respond with love to his not-as-loving action. : )

  19. Hey, I think I ran into that same guy on Kessler! :-)

    Seriously, great read. It also makes me wonder if we have a societal shortage of all types of maturity, especially others awareness and self control. Technology has exacerbated this problem as it’s harder to be aware of others when you are completely absorbed in your personal electronic device. I notice it on the road, on airplanes, really everywhere. It’s almost as if we have looked at the tough economics of the past 15 years and given ourselves permission to not grow up. (You’re only young once, but you can be immature forever!)

    That said, solving this for some darn reason always seems to start with that guy in my mirror. :-)

    Thanks, Chip!

    Jim Bud

    • Chip Neidigh (Author)

      What an interesting paradox: the cushier our existence, the harder it is to grow up. There is apparently a Chinese saying: “Wealth cannot last three generations.” Perhaps our own “success” (material wealth and comfort) has made it easier to not succeed in the future?

  20. Chip – very nicely explained on self control. I like it!

  21. David Sylvester

    Chip – this struck a chord with me and serves as a great reminder that either “you have the story or the story has you.” We are all the hero and narrator of the stories we create to explain (or rationalize) the experiences we have in life. As you described so well, we have the opportunity to re-write our story and how we respond to stimulus in ever more positive ways as we mature and become more aware of (and attuned to) our emotions and those of others. This is all very much aligned with Goleman’s research around EQ.

  22. Chip, your comments gave me pause to consider my own level of emotional maturity. I often have impulsive responses, especially when driving. I never thought of the deeper meaning behind my responses. Apparently, my emotional IQ can be quite low at times!