WHEN DO YOU CALL THE KETTLE BLACK? Yesterday we had a horrible moment in our country’s politics? Americans had a challenge against our base principles and we will have to see how it plays out. I believe politics showed an ugly side and as a country, we should be thinking long and hard about when does the pot call the kettle black? We have to return to the principle of innocent until proven guilty and the requirement of evidence has to be present even if the witness comes across as credible. Now, that being said, my post is not of a true political origin but was inspired by those events. It came to me, as much as I do not like conflict or drama, I feel in fairness we have to call a kettle black to maintain integrity.
I wondered how many of us know the origin of the phrase The Pot Calling The Kettle Black?
What’s the meaning of the phrase ‘The pot calling the kettle black’?
‘The pot calling the kettle black’ is a response often given when someone criticises another for a fault they also ‘the pot calling the kettle black’ have themselves.
What’s the origin of the phrase ‘The pot calling the kettle black’?
This phrase originates in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, or at least in Thomas Shelton’s 1620 translation – Cervantes Saavedra’s History of Don Quixote:
“You are like what is said that the frying-pan said to the kettle, ‘Avant, black-browes’.”
The first person who is recorded as using the phrase in English was William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, in his Some fruits of solitude, 1693:
“If thou hast not conquer’d thy self in that which is thy own particular Weakness, thou hast no Title to Virtue, tho’ thou art free of other Men’s. For a Covetous Man to inveigh against Prodigality, an Atheist against Idolatry, a Tyrant against Rebellion, or a Lyer against Forgery, and a Drunkard against Intemperance, is for the Pot to call the Kettle black.”
‘The pot calling the kettle black’ is one of a number of proverbial sayings that guard against hypocrisy and complacency. The context of Penn’s use of the expression is one which is similar to ‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone‘. Another is ‘you can’t hold with the hare and run with the hounds.
Matthew 7:5 , in the King James Version of the Bible has:
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Shakespeare also expressed a similar notion in a line in Troilus and Cressida, 1606:
“The raven chides blackness.”
Developing Critical Thinking Skills to be an effective “Kettle Caller” is a good exercise for all of us to use these skills without adding emotional factors. I found an excerpt which gives us a starting point to stop, look, and most importantly listen.
6 Exercises to Strengthen Your Critical Thinking Skills
While there are many more skills that we develop and draw upon in our professional lives, these 4 reign supreme. They are foundational to your ability to engage others, problem-solve, guide, motivate and navigate in organizational settings. And like everything else in life, mastery requires hard work and ample practice.
Our focus in this first post in the series on strengthening your core leadership skills is on critical thinking.
- Read about other leaders and the challenges they faced and how they solved them. I love the book, “Strategy Rules: 5 Timeless Lessons from Bill Gates, Andy Grove and Steve Jobs,” by Yoffie and Cusumano, as a way to jump-start your thinking. While I have a long list of reading suggestions, for business professionals, this one provides some great insights and lessons from three of the individuals most responsible for creating our technology-driven world. For those whose preferences run to history, try “Winston Churchill: Memoirs of the Second World War,” where you get an up close and personal look at the nation and world-changing problems encountered by this war-time leader. If you don’t like my suggestions, find subjects and authors who expose you to new ideas and challenge you to think differently. I encourage my coaching clients to read thought-provoking content for at least 20-minutes every day.
- Exercise your critical thinking skills by analyzing your competitors. Study your competitors and attempt to distill and describe their strategies and more importantly, how and where they make money. Strive to understand the customer groups they focus on and how and why they win and lose. Do the same for your own firm and identify opportunities for your firm to beat the competitors. Engage your customer-facing colleagues in this exercise to gain their insights on competitor strategies and opportunities. This type of intelligence gathering and analysis is an excellent exercise for your entire team.
- Find an orphan problem and adopt it! In every organization, there are annoying problems no one claims as their own. Identify an orphan problem and ask for your boss’s support in tackling it. For issues that cross functions, you’ll need to pull together a team. Guide your team through the process of analyzing the problem, interviewing key stakeholders and developing potential solutions. In addition to gaining visibility as a leader and problem-solver, you will be exercising all 4 of your core professional skill sets with this activity!
- Figure out what keeps executives in your firm awake at night. Invite your boss or an executive to lunch and ask questions about the strategy and direction of the firm. Strive to understand the big challenges they see for the firm and ask for their views on the ideal strategy and key actions. You will gain invaluable insight into the big issues surrounding the firm’s future and you will walk away with a better understanding of the complex challenges senior leaders grapple with on a daily basis.
- Put a team on it. Guide your team through structured problem-solution development activities. Work with your team to assess problems from multiple viewpoints and develop alternative solutions. For example, a competitor’s announcement might be viewed as a threat. While you should guide the team through data gathering, analysis and countermeasure development, try also framing the situation as an opportunity. By launching a new offering, your competitor is investing resources in one area. Does this mean they will be saying no to other segments or stretched thin to defend their legacy offerings? Learning to reframe issues and problems and to develop multiple solution sets depending upon the frame, is a powerful use of your critical thinking skills.
- Start and maintain a journal to chart your successes and mistakes. I encourage all of my coaching clients to log key decisions and expected outcomes and to reference these entries over time. By examining your assumptions and logic and comparing expected to actual outcomes, you gain insight into your own decision-making and critical thinking strengths and weaknesses.
As a blogger and an author I see a lot of input from several sources and I find the most effective dialogue and feedback are the most factual and/or personal experienced monologues on a subject. However, I find we have trouble putting our personal experiences aside and thinking without emotion or sentiment to non personal subjects. Finding a neutral place and listening without bias is such a wise choice but it is harder than doing it. Focus on the facts and realize that because something or someone has made you feel like you are in a position to call someone out, you may be looking at the situation in an unfavorable light. LIVE LIFE; LOVE LIFE; AND LIVE LIFE TO THE FULLEST by observing, thinking, and giving everything a fair and balanced objective chance.
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