Management Musings

Friend and Foe in the Mirror

“You can’t do this. You can do this.” “You’re not smart enough. You’re just as intelligent as them.” “You’re fat and look awful. You look great and besides no one is perfect.” “You’re going to look foolish. Anyone would be a little anxious, but you’ll be fine.” Who would say such terrible, hurtful things while at the same time offer opposing, positive remarks? People do—to themselves—every day.

There are two internal forces vying to control one’s opinion of oneself—the inner critic (foe) and the inner creator (friend). Whichever of the two influences her thinking more will have an outsized impact on her life’s outcomes. The inner critic is the voice that characterizes a self-defeating mindset. This negative self-talk will sometimes preclude individuals from seeing and acting on choices that could lead to a better self. Inopportune as its timing when confidence is nascent, the inner critic allows self-doubt (the “you’re not capable” babble) to creep in. Conversely, the inner creator seeks to adapt and make the best out of a situation. It does not judge, but instead offers impartial truths to the self and provides guidance to plan and act. Achieving a goal is never guaranteed, but circumstances are viewed from the perspective of choosing to act based on the available information without shaming the self. The irony is that success (peace) is found and frankly lives in a turbulent place of hardship and worry. The ancient philosopher Lao Tzu posited that those who can endure the pains of the past (depression) and the concern for the future (anxiety) yet still focus on being present in the moment will find peace. But the profound weight of a past and future is precisely what gives the inner critic a significant advantage in drowning out the inner creator, making equanimity fleeting.

Before a manager can help the folks around her develop and thrive in the organization, she must be attuned to her own development and self-image. Importantly, the view she holds of herself (irrespective of its factual basis) colors that image, which in turn steers the decisions she makes. How can a court manager coach herself to find inner peace so that she can eventually mentor others to live in serenity? More specifically, how can she temper her inner critic during those momentous occasions when the imposter chatter gets louder and repetitive and feels overwhelming?


“Hello, Toni—I’m guessing you’re running late.”

“At this hour—yes—a little late, but if you decide to wait for me there, I’m going to be much later,” she stated while chuckling.

“Good one—where are you?” I asked.

“Why don’t you come and meet me here?  I’m at the pier across from the bait-and-tackle shop at the Meliora Marina.”

“I’m happy to take the drive over, but what are you doing there?”

“The tuna charter I’m waiting for was supposed to be in at 4:00, but they’re evidently behind schedule, which is delaying me a bit. Anyway, I’m invested now, so make your way over. I realize I’ve inconvenienced you, so I’ll make it worth your while.”

“You don’t owe me anything Toni. I’m on my way.”

Toni’s love for fish could have easily made her a pescatarian. On a regular basis she would buy her seafood direct from fishermen at the local harbor. Toni mentioned how it gave her an opportunity to learn more about the distinct types of fish, ask questions, and after a short while was on a first-name basis with many of them. I supposed that it was not always a cost savings, but the experience of purchasing and enjoying the freshly caught fish was always worth it to her.

As I began walking to the dock, she noticed me and raised her arm to get my attention. She waved me over and I saw that she was leaning up against the trunk of her car holding a white plastic bag. I approached her stating, “This place is packed like sardines, but I venture to say that you got yourself a good catch.”

“You know I did. I didn’t want to put it into the cooler until I showed you what I caught.” She opened the bag that held two large slabs of tuna and three flukes. “My guy threw the fluke in for free,” she said as she winked and patted me on the back. She opened the trunk and placed the bag into a cooler that was half filled with ice. “I’ll let you in on another secret,” she offered, as she shut the trunk.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“When you buy fish, you want to keep it on ice until you’re ready to season and cook it. If you freeze it, you’ll want to move it to the fridge to defrost by placing it in a colander with a bowl underneath. In either case, you don’t want the ice to melt and soak the fish. The ice water will cause the fish to break down and ruin the flavor.”

“Good to know.”

“Okay—I got you the perfect tea as a small token of my appreciation,” she stated. She opened the passenger side door of her car and took out two cups she had placed in the center console. “Believe it or not, the coffee shop here has a fairly good selection of teas.”

“What’s this?” I asked as she handed me a cup.

“I got you the right tea for the right time. Hibiscus,” she stated, taking her first sip. “Yes sir—that hits the spot.”

“Right tea—right time?”

“Absolutely—drink this every day for 5 to 6 weeks and it will help lower your blood pressure. Doctor’s orders.”

“Ha ha—okay. Thank you for the prescription.”

“So, did you bring me the outline of the discussion?” Toni asked. I was scheduled to deliver a plenary session for an upcoming conference and had mentioned to her how I thought my nerves were getting the best of me in the weeks leading up to the annual meeting. I asked if she could eyeball my talking points and give me some feedback. She agreed and told me to bring her a hard copy so that it gave us a good excuse to get together.

“As requested,” I said, handing it to her. She took it from me, placed it in the passenger seat and slammed the car door shut.

“I thought you wanted to go through it?”

“I will—but later. Let’s take a walk around here for a bit and drink our tea,” she stated walking toward the main pier. As we began making our way around the promenade, Toni was sipping her tea and at one point stopped, took a deep breath, and asked, “You smell that?”

“You might be picking up the same thing attracting the squawking seagulls,” I joked.

“If they like salt—then yes. I love the smell of brine in the afternoon,” she declared.

“Did you say brine or wine?”

“Ha—brine, but wine on occasion too,” she shot back.

“You got that from Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now, except it was napalm and in the morning.”

“I may have borrowed it. For me it’s the saltiness in the air,” she stated stopping again to take in another deep breath. “Of course, it would be preferable in the morning when conditions drop to the lowest dew-point temperature, but any time of the day will do.” She tilted her head upward and closed her eyes. “Yes—indeed—it smells like,” pauses to inhale, “victory.”

She turns to look at me with one eye shut and another open, “So, it’s all about perspective, which is completely under your control. I give you exhibit A—you smell the remnants of fileted fish,” she states with her palm out while slowly spinning in a circle, “but I choose to pick up the medicinal nourishment of this briny air. The choice is always yours.” She stopped spinning, stared directly at me, and asked, “You understand where I’m going with this?”

“I think so. I’m imagining disaster striking and worrying too much about this plenary I’m delivering.”

“I feel the weight of that anxiety you’re carrying—and that’s saying something.”

“Yes—but you’re very intuitive that way.”

“Thank you, but this is weightier than usual because you’re not giving yourself enough credit. I’ll read the outline, but I can tell you what I think now if you’d like.”

“I would.”

“I’ve read and heard enough from you to know that it’s good enough, but it doesn’t matter what I think. You’ve got to convince yourself first and foremost that you’ll be fine even if the results don’t turn out exactly the way you would have preferred. The monster under the bed is all in your head. Instead, tap into that benevolent genie who’s waiting to hear your heart’s desires. I can certainly appreciate the benefit of being your own worst critic, but don’t be an enemy.”

“Be a critical friend?” I asked.

“An honest friend. Which is to say take a moment to breathe, quiet the chitchat to reframe your thoughts, choose a positive outlook, and then always plan to move forward.”

“That’s victory?”

“The start of it—yes. Just like defeat. It begins in your mind.”


The poet and playwright of the late 19th century, Oscar Wilde, crafted many works describing the drive to love and import of being loved. Interestingly, that courtship of deception (as Wilde described it) starts with yourself stating, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” In opening your heart, however, Wilde cautioned, “Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.” To love oneself then means to indulge herself as if she is (in fact) extraordinary—even if this enchantment is at once feigned. And being loved, Wilde argued, was the ultimate prize because the person loved is never poor. That said, it seems simple enough—love oneself and riches abound. Of course, life is much more complicated given our friend/foe selves, particularly as it relates to individual experiences that shape perspective; thus, what it means to love and be loved and its impact on the choices we make on account of this emotion is a labyrinth with more features than a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

The friend part of the self believes one can; the foe part of the self believes one cannot. That negative soliloquy everyone has going on inside their head, however, is ever-present. In fact, the inner critic comprises a primitive part of our brain and its hypervigilance is not without purpose—namely, to inhibit behavior that could potentially harm us. So, while critical, even cruel, our propensity to view the glass half empty is hardwired into us as a safeguard against perceived threats in the environment. In this instance, the inner critic shames us privately as a sort of preemptive attack so that we avoid taking any action that might result in public humiliation and social rejection.

While she cannot eliminate the inner critic (nor would anyone want to), she can take better command of it. This enables her to be aware of potential threats without becoming overwhelmed and maladjusted by negative emotions. In general, there are four guideposts to managing the inner critic. First, bear in mind that the narrative being told is not factually based; instead, it is an internalized point of view not entirely of one’s own making but woven together over time from pernicious experiences and hurtful interactions. Second, take note of the inner critic’s outlandish perspective recognizing that it is not borne from a place of love one deserves and should expect in a friend. Third, counterbalance the inner critic with the inner creator of the self by appealing to your sensibilities and evaluating yourself with greater compassion. Employ a better attitude by accepting present circumstances, making a plan, and taking action. Fourth, do not act based on the thought process emerging from the inner critic just as one would not act on the advice of a known foe. Action should be taken only after careful consideration of goals that filters out this internal monologue that seeks to limit life’s transformations.

Suffice to say there is no universal solution to unraveling and dispelling the feelings of inferiority caught in the dragnet of a life lived that the inner critic thrusts upon us. Discovering peace, as Tzu proposed, requires finding comfort in the present notwithstanding the perpetual discomfort of a past and future. If Wilde is right (and he most probably is) the formula to achieve this tranquility is composed of a single ingredient—love—and, nota bene, love for oneself being the most important. We bring love into the world with our thoughts, words, and actions. The thoughts we hold of ourselves, the words we choose in speaking to ourselves, and the actions we take for ourselves are indicative of the love we have for ourselves. One can start by realizing that while in most instances listening is more essential than talking, when it comes to oneself, sometimes it is more important to talk to oneself than to listen to oneself. Peace can be found in that dialogue with a friend.

And those are just some of my musings on management.


Giuseppe M. Fazari has been musing about management concepts and practices throughout his career as an administrator, consultant, and academic. Contact him at