Millions have fallen under the spell of PBS’s acclaimed Downton Abbey. For the past three years fans the world over have gathered around their televisions to see what the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants are up to next in the grand estate of Downton Abbey.
This past season, however, revealed that all is not as it appears to be in Downton. The pomp, wealth, grandeur, and excess that we all had come to relish in previous seasons has seen its day. After years of mismanagement, ill-advised investments, and an unwillingness to adapt to less traditional methods of home management (not to mention modern industrial farming), the Abbey is in peril. If something doesn’t change–and soon–the Crawley family could be forced to sell the Abbey and let go of all its servants, thus leaving the entire town of Downton (which depends on the Abbey and its land)–like the aristocracy itself–a thing of the past.
Robert Crawley, or as he is called on the show, his Lordship or Lord Grantham, is the head of the estate and controls the “upstairs” of the household. Lord Grantham’s butler, Carson, manages the servants downstairs. Together they uphold the entirety of the working household and are bulwarks for the “old way” of doing business. Both are smug, self-satisfied, and full of pride. They hold fast to the fundamental idea that the “best way that works” is the one they have always employed, which for them is a staunch adherence to tradition.
Upstairs, Lord Grantham refuses to be reduced to talking about such trivial things as money. It’s unseemly. When his son-in-law Matthew points out his excessive spending while there is very little money coming in, the proud Grantham takes offense. Instead of seeing the writing on the wall–there won’t be much to spend anymore–he believes his young, knowledgeable son-in-law is impudent and rude. Meanwhile, downstairs, Carson is losing control. Maids are talking about things like careers. (The horror!) And Lord Grantham’s daughters (who Carson has long revered) are seemingly out of control. One of the daughters, Edith, has taken a job as a writer. It’s impossible for Carson to think a proper aristocratic lady might actually dirty her hands with work of any kind! Next, Carson thinks, women will want to vote! He is about done in when the former chauffer, an Irishman of all people, marries a daughter and actually eats at the family dinner table.
Meanwhile, Lord Grantham’s pride–or his fatal flaw–keeps getting in the way of his familial happiness and the estate’s success. Fatal flaw, you ask? What is that? The fatal flaw is something we all possess that keeps getting in the way of our happiness and success–over and over. Why does it keep getting in the way? And just why is it so fatal? It is fatal because it is something we don’t see and therefore can’t fix. Because we don’t understand ourselves enough to know what it is that keeps screwing up our personal and professional lives, we continue to do so. Usually someone else (in fact most other people we know) could tell us just what they think our fatal flaw is. But, we often don’t ask others what they really think of us. And most polite people don’t usually feel the need to point out something that might be hurtful or not especially advantageous to do so. (For example, I don’t recommend employees pointing out their managers’ fatal flaws.)
In Downton Abbey, though, Grantham’s flaw literally becomes fatal. In fact, Grantham only comes to his senses and recognizes his fatal flaw after an ill-fated decision to follow medical advice from an old crony from London, rather than that of a local, small-town doctor. Unable to see how his smug, know-it-all, prideful behavior has affected his family for years, Grantham cannot deny that death of his youngest daughter, Sybil, may have been partly his fault. (Though he needs to have this fact pointed out by his bereft wife, Cora.)
Recognizing and then Fixing Your Fatal Flaw Before it Fixes You
So what are some fatal flaws? Well, there is no published list. But, if you’re wondering what is the one thing you are doing that keeps getting you into trouble or keeps you from happiness, then you need get to know yourself. Look at some patterns in your home and work life. What behaviors do you employ that seem to have adverse effects–not just to your own life but the lives of others? Sometimes your fatal flaw starts out as strength. It is something that worked for a time, but then somehow it overtakes how you do everything and comes back to bite you.
For example, a friend once confided in me that she was thinking of “ditching” a friend, who she thought was at first lively and fun, but soon realized she was anything but after years of friendship. She explained to me that her friend was/is a full-fledged narcissist. Her narcissistic friend often showed up at her parties by flamboyantly announcing her arrival and started talking about herself and never, ever stopped. She talked about her life, her boyfriends, her jobs and even what she ate that day. She rarely took a breath and dominated the entire conversation for hours. She missed all the social cues–people getting up and leaving (it couldn’t be because of her), and people even rolling their eyes at each other (nope, couldn’t be her either). She told stories, the same ones over and over, so much so, my friend could repeat them by rote. Whenever they met for lunch, her self-obsessed friend never asked how she was doing or what was going on in her life. The friend immediately sat down and said, “You won’t beeeelieve the day I just had…,” and would launch into a tirade how people or her latest beau had misused or mistreated her in some way (usually, her complaint was that the men in her life never listened to her or ignored her). My friend would often sit–her plate cleared for well over an hour–nodding her head and watching the clock, wishing for all the world to run away. She wished she had the courage to say to her self-obsessed friend, “You need to listen better and you need to focus a little more on others.” But, she didn’t. She just stopped returning her friend’s phone calls. She stopped making lunch appointments. I wonder if anyone has since told my friend’s lunch pal: You need to listen better. The world doesn’t revolve around you. But, then again, I wonder even if this woman did hear such a thing, if she would be capable of changing. Many of us know someone like this–someone who doesn’t seem to understand how their behavior is informing or even sabotaging their own personal and professional lives.
And that brings me to another point; we’re all wonderful at identifying others’ flaws. It’s easy for me to diagnose others, like Seinfeld and his friends George and Elaine could. Remember the close-talker or the girl with man-hands? They could pinpoint immediately the most annoying traits of all of their poor acquaintances, and never see that it was they who were too neurotic. How many of us can rattle off quickly all the quirks, traits, and flaws that prevent others from succeeding: She talks too much. He’s so bossy. He’s so arrogant. She’s a suck-up. She’s a liar. He’s so shady and unethical. She doesn’t adapt well. She can’t get along with people. He’s too shy. He has a hot temper. She’s too pleasing. Yet, we can’t name our own. For most of us our flaw is fatal, because, like Lord Grantham, we can’t see our own flaw until it’s far too late. We’re always the last to know. Though, truthfully, we may have “Matthews” telling us what we need to hear (or a friend who is not calling us back), but many, out of pride or denial, just flat out refuse to believe them–or we may just not be willing to change.
Five Ways to Identify Your Fatal Flaw and Overcome It
1. Ask someone you trust. And it has to be someone who can be honest with you. Employees will not benefit by telling you, “You’re a lousy boss. You don’t know how to manage people.” However, a colleague or peer may tell you what you need to hear. A partner or significant other might not be the best person either; they may be biased or may even project their own issues on to you–treating you too harshly or too lightly depending on the nature of your relationship. Sometimes it helps to get an outsider’s opinion–a mentor or a coach–who can watch you in action and assess your behavior for themselves. The Xavier Leadership Center offers a Leadership Foundations Certificate which includes a 360 assessment of your leadership strengths and weaknesses, affording you with honest feedback about what you need to improve and where you need to focus your attention.
2. Take an inventory of all your major setbacks, failures, and losses. Is there a common denominator? This one is not easy. Going down a painful memory lane isn’t what most of us want to do. Think back on previous relationships, jobs, projects, etc., that went sour. Without blaming your past partners or colleagues, ask yourself what you did wrong? What behaviors do you think contributed to the downfall of that relationship? If you were ever fired, reprimanded or failed at a job or project, ask yourself, what was it that you did that may have contributed to that result? If you’re stuck in a job, a relationship or a situation, what is it that is keeping you from moving forward? Usually, the answer to these questions will lead you to your fatal flaw.
3. Make amends. Once you’ve pinpointed and identified your flaw, chances are it’s not only hurt and affected you, but it’s affected others, too. Take some time to make a list of people who you may have harmed and reach out to them. Let them know that you are now aware of how these actions affected you–and them–and that you’re sorry, and let them know you’re working hard to self-correct.
4. Be self-aware when you speak and act. Once you are aware of your fatal flaw try to overcorrect. If you talk too much about yourself, for example, tell yourself during the next meeting or dinner, you will only ask questions of others and you will listen carefully to their answers–not sharing anything about yourself. If you never talk and hang back in meetings, force yourself to speak up. Engage with someone you normally would not. If you’re stubborn and always have to have your way at home or on a project–let someone else take control–just let go. If you have a tendency to overcommit, stop and ask yourself why you’re doing something. Exercise saying the word: No.
5. Replace your flaw with a positive behavior. If you’re awfully opinionated and recognize that it has cost you friendships and job opportunities, find someone who you admire who seems to manage his/her opinions or at least delivers them in a way that is not so offensive or damaging. Whatever flaw you’re trying to correct, there are people who have found some success in doing so as well. Seek out role models whom you admire. Then emulate the traits you find most attractive about that person. Do they seem to know the right thing to say at the right time? Do they have a positive attitude? Are they gracious? What is it about them that you and other people find interesting, charming, likeable, or relatable?
Some upcoming open enrollment programs that may help identify your strengths and overcome your fatal flaw, whatever it may be:
Learn how you can become the kind of leader who can inspire, engage and empower others to achieve results and unleash individual and organizational potential.
Learn how to engage others, manage interactions and shape outcomes so you can become a more effective manager and leader.
Create productive day-to-day interactions and alignment so that everyone achieves their maximum potential …and you attain your desired outcome.
Develop the skills and learn the tools you need to successfully lead your next change initiative.
Learn how to develop and leverage your own natural talents and the talents of others to create a more positive, productive workforce.
Lead more effectively by analyzing specific individual or situational needs and choosing the best leadership approach for your goals.