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Why We All Need an “Editor” to Filter Our Leadership Actions and Decisions

There’s an expression in literary circles that goes like this: Everyone needs an editor.

Ernest Hemingway needed an editor. Harper Lee needed an editor. Fyodor Dostoevsky needed an editor. And, having waded into waters of writing by producing blogs, articles, and a book, I can affirm the truth of that expression. In fact, this much I have in common with Hemingway, Lee, and Dostoevsky: I, too, need an editor.

As a former CEO and an observer of the human condition, I also can tell you that the maxim applies well beyond writing.

So here’s the question: Who edits your life?

When it comes to writing, editors make changes and suggestions to improve the content and the delivery of your message. In most cases, editors have some ownership in the final product, and, therefore, might have the final say so. In other cases, you, as the author, can over-rule the editors (like with spellcheck). But you can’t dismiss an editor’s advice if you don’t first have an editor who gives advice.

There’s a technical aspect to an editor’s job. It involves catching typos, errors in style, and other mistakes that make you look more inept than you actually are. That’s important. But it’s equally helpful when an editor saves you from your blind spots. Good editors will review something you’ve written and let you know what doesn’t work and why. Maybe your analogy is weak or your pun isn’t funny. Maybe you worded something that, despite your intentions, would greatly offend your readers. Or maybe you wrote something out of anger that you should consider good therapy but not something you should share. And this is where my analogy really applies to life and leadership.

What if we all had editors for our behaviors? Someone who evaluated what we are going to say or do and let us know where our plans might backfire on us?

I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by suggesting that most of the folks involved in the capital insurrection could have used an in-the-moment editor. The same goes for Will Smith and Chris Rock leading up to Rock’s joke and Smith’s slap at the Oscars. Or any number of disgruntled vaxxers, anti-vaxxers, mask proponents, and mask opponents who’ve been slugging it out everywhere from hospitals to ski lifts to airports. The phrase “Hold my beer and watch this” comes to mind, but these days alcohol doesn’t even have to be involved. As Olda Khazan noted in an article for The Atlantic, “Everyone is acting so weird!”

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And everyone, by the way, includes me and you, unless you are the lone exception and you haven’t said or done something you’ve come to regret. The truth is, we all do stupid things when we don’t think them through, and often we can’t think them through as well as we should without some help.

The first and most important editor for my life is prayer. In the heat of the moment and when it comes to strategies or long-term decisions, I try my best to seek the counsel of a higher power. When I rush forward without that help, it almost always gets me in trouble.

In addition to prayer, I seek the advice of my wife, my friends, my co-workers, and my mentors. They might be the answer to my prayers, and it doesn’t take that much time to call them or seek them out for a visit. Sometimes I don’t even need to do that — I just need to ask myself, for instance, how my wife would respond to the decision I’m considering. Would she approve or give me a look of disbelief? Would she be proud or embarrassed? Would she cheer me on or battle her own Will Smith-temptation to smack me in the face?

Whatever challenge you are facing, the wisdom and perspective of an editor can help you get through it more successfully. You still must make and own your choices, but why not involve others who will help you correct your mistakes before the rest of the world experiences them? While weird isn’t always bad or wrong, we all need an editor to help us get it right.

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