“Know thyself” – Socrates, 78 AD.
“You can know yourself only through
accurate analysis” – Napoleon Hill.
Self-knowledge is conscientiously divided into gut-checking, soul searching and reacquainting with self-time, each strongly related to the success in life and work.
In the writing of this blog, I normally stick to the mechanical steps of leadership development and performance improvement. Yet, feedback is a crucial element. In many ways it can be eye-opening, informative and possibly open a can of worms, pending the responders’ demeanor. In one study, the best predictor of a high performance appraisal was seeing yourself as others see you; the best predictor of a low appraisal was overrating your skills.
As a leader, you are deploying your skills daily against life’s situation. Work skills for leaders are continuously being developed and redefined to really know what you’re good, average and bad at, what you’re untested in, and what you overdo or overuse.
Knowing yourself better and becoming aware of your weaknesses doesn’t get you in as much trouble as unforeseen blind spots. You can loop around and compensate for a known weakness, however a blind spot is the worst thing a leader can have. Leaders and all managers for that matter, can really get into performance and managerial trouble when they don’t know or are unwilling to admit that they are not good at something. They will venture into areas that should make them cautious and humble, but they go in strutting and confident. Disaster soon follows. An important life and career goal is to have as few blind spots as possible and conversely be aware of them.
Knowing your self-identity traits is only part of the battle, being aware of them, planning around them and mitigating their impact is of utmost importance for many high performing global leaders. Here are seven prompts to help keep your blind spots in clear view.
#1 – Get feedback. People are generally reluctant to give you certain types of feedback, especially negative or corrective information. Generally, to get it, you must ask for it. If people are reluctant to give criticism, help them by making self appraisal statements rather than asking questions. Saying, “I think I focus too much on operations and miss some of the larger strategic connections; what do you think? is much easier for most people to reply to than a question which asks them to volunteer this point.
Seek feedback from more than one source. Pose the question to customers, peers, your direct reports and individuals from various support functions in your organization, etc…. as they are likely to know more about and be more accurate about different competencies. Fruitful areas for bosses usually include: strategic grasp, selling up skills, comfort around higher management, presentation of problems, solutions, clarity of thinking, team building, confrontation and sizing up people’s skills. Customers generally know about responsiveness, listening, quality orientation, problem solving skills, understanding of their business needs, persuasiveness. Peers know persuasion, selling, negotiation, listening to find common cause, keeping the interests of the organization in mind, follow-through on promises, and how well you maintain give and take in 50-50 relationships. Direct reports are best at the day to day behavior of leadership, management, team building, delegation, confronting, approachability, and time use. When you get a piece of feedback, ask yourself if the person is in a position to know that about you. You may be the only one who doesn’t know the truth about yourself. Other sources agree much more with one another about you than you will likely agree with any one of the sources. Even though your own view is important, don’t accept it as fact until verified by more than one other person who should know.
#2 – Seek confidential feedback. A private discussion, a private 360 degree conversation– tends to be more realistic and more accurate than an Annual Performance Appraisal – as a general procedural form of feedback. Don’t be wowed to indefensibility by your public feedback. For most of us, it’s an excessively positive view. When the individual providing the feedback knows results will be public, scores go up, accuracy goes down.
#3 – Rank and prioritize the results. Focus on the highest and lowest items or competency results from each individual or group supplying feedback. Spend less time worrying about whether your scores are high or low in an absolute sense. In development, you should worry about what’s relative to you, not you relative to anyone else. Your goal is simply to know yourself better. To do this, answer the following questions: Why am I this way? How did my strengths get to be strengths? What experiences shaped my pattern? Do I have strengths tipping over into weaknesses – “I’m intelligent but make others feel less so;” “I’m creative but disorganized.” If you are clearly poor at something, what’s getting in your way? Many times you’ll find you don’t like it and have a poor understanding of why and how it’s done well. Think of tough situations for yourself where your strengths and weaknesses can play out.
#4 – Work the feedback loop continuously. There are three ways to get continued, high quality feedback:
• Allow for anonymous responses through open-umbrella comment boxes, designated to specific areas you are concerned about.
• Work with a development partner who knows what you’re working on and gives feedback as you try new things.
• In areas you are working on, ask others who have watched you to debrief events with you shortly after they happen.
• On new initiatives ask others if they have experience with similar initiatives, first-hand knowledge. Then analyze the results and execution of the initiatives.
#5 – Analyze and categorize the feedback. Some people will supply on-point answers while others may supply answers that are overly flattering and highly critical. Look to categorize the answers into these three buckets:
• Things others see that you also see that are true about you.
• Things others think they see, but you don’t agree and are not really true about you. The perceptions of others may not be true about you.
• Things that others see that you don’t see that are true about you – this will surface strengths you have that you sell yourself short on and weaknesses you have that you deny or are unaware of (blind spots). Once the blind spots are exposed, understand when they occur, be cognitive of them and what the best solution is to identify the blind spot.
#6 – Keep your personal opinion in check. Many people who have a towering strength or lots of success get little feedback and roll along until their managerial credibility finds itself in trouble. If you are viewed as arrogant, you may have to repeatedly ask for feedback, and when you get it, there may be some anger with it. Almost by definition, arrogant people overrate themselves in the eyes of others. Others who think you are arrogant might rate you lower than neutral observers. If you devalue others, they will return the insult.
#7 – Don’t flip the on defense switch. Defensiveness is another major blockage to self-knowledge. Here people suspect you really can’t take it, that you are defending against something, probably by blaming it on others or the job context. Defensive people get less feedback, thereby fulfilling their dream of being perfect. To break this cycle, you will follow the rules of good listening, and give examples of the behavior being described to validate what people are saying. While this may sound unfair, you should initially accept all feedback as accurate, even when you know it isn’t. On the matters that really count, you can go make a plan to return to it for repairing.
Working to a plan for accurate feedback on a continuous schedule allows leaders to focus on the tasks with the most momentum and surface the blind spots for addressing remedy. Global leaders willing to build such skill sets are open to criticism, but for those who have acquired influence, they can begin to build an invaluable asset of being approachable. Regardless of which bucket ends up being fullest at the end of your analysis. Engaging this exercise can produce clear direction for optimizing your performance in conjunction with your teams.
Do you have a feedback loop management tool you most favor to educate yourself on yourself? Would you say your leadership demonstrates a feedback approach fostering collaboration, how?