“When times are challenging you learn about who you are” – Stephen Green, HSBC
It is important as leaders to be able to lead ourselves. In fact it is important for all of us to be able to lead ourselves. Timothy Gallwey in ‘The Inner Game of Work’ talks about us all being the CEO of our own company, namely our own lives, and its true – if we lead nothing and nobody else, we lead ourselves. How well are we doing it?
The bible also suggests that a man ought to examine himself because if we judge ourselves, we will not come under judgment – it talks in a spiritual sense but is this not true of the natural world as well. If we look at ourselves with an objective and critical eye (or as unprejudiced as we will ever be) we can make changes and improvements before someone else points out our faults to us – potentially an infinitely more painful process.
Self-awareness though is not something that will come easily. Many of us will be overly critical seeing all of our faults. Others of us will be verging on cocky, aware of our strengths and unconcerned or blinded to our flaws. How can we be realistic and tend towards the objective?
It seems there are three keys to becoming more aware of who we are.
It’s not easy or quick but absolutely necessary. If we try to look at ourselves in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, all we will see is a busy person struggling to give enough time to the task.
Instead we need to step back from life, somehow detach ourselves from the merry-go-round we live and work on and find a place of silence. That might be out on a hillside or it could be in your own front room. The location is irrelevant so long as there is an air of remoteness from the pressures of life; a remoteness that is not in danger of being punctured by incoming phone messages or people clamouring for your attention. So switch off your Blackberry, walk away from your laptop, leave people behind.
Make enough time for really getting quiet as well. We can’t do it simply be sitting down for a quiet half hour. There will be too many errant thoughts still spilling in slyly from your previous concentrations. If you have less than half a day, it will be hard to enter a space of peace and start to think unadulterated thoughts.
Maybe you are the type of person who can focus on things simply by sitting still and thinking through them. Alternatively you might want to be active, doing something that focuses your thoughts. However the thoughts come to mind though, write them down. They might be instantly obvious or you may need to mull them over in the next days or weeks – what do they mean?
There are many tools on the market ranging from the free to vastly over-priced; from three insightful questions to books of material to wade through. Some of them however will be useful.
How you decide what to use can be narrowed down initially by what you want to find out about yourself. For example if you want a clearer idea of your personality strengths you could use persolog’s Personality Profile, a Myers Briggs Type Indicator or any of the huge range of other offerings available on the market. When you want to know what your style of creativity is, you could try a Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory. To see where your motivating abilities lie, try an xpand Skills Workbook. But these are only the tip of the iceberg to serve as examples. There are hundreds of thousands of know-yourself type products on the market so which do you use?
What have your friends and people you trust used. What can other people recommend? What can you afford or how much do you want to budget? Find someone with some ideas and start from there.
What do other people say about you? We tend to notice the nice things that people say, but often they are not particularly insightful. The other statements that make their mark on our conscious are the criticisms, but how many of these are valid and again, insightful? It is, however, worth delving deeper into both of these sets, because there are probably nuggets of truth in there before they have been filtered by the other persons situation and feelings.
As well as that though, you need to find an objective source of feedback. The people that you trust, whom you referred to in order to find self-assessment tools, are hopefully also people you trust to talk straight to you about your strengths and weaknesses. If they are not, search your list of close contacts and find that kind of person. It needs to be someone who knows you well, that you trust to speak the truth, and whom you respect so that you don’t discount what they say. Likewise, they need to respect you, otherwise they won’t bother themselves and may give insufficiently thoughtful answers. Also be aware of any power imbalance in the relationship before you start. Are you willing for a boss or subordinate to point out your failings? Will a subordinate tend to give you an overly positive assessment and not be critical enough?
Once you have found such a suitable person (or people – different viewpoints will give you a better overall picture), don’t simply ask them bland ‘what are my strengths?’ type questions. Instead, how about getting them to complete the same self-assessment tools that you have already completed and then compare the answers – where are the discrepancies and why have they appeared. Alternatively, simply sit down with the answers you generated yourself and ask your reviewer(s) if they agree with your findings. If your reviewers/critics/mentors have something to agree or disagree with then it makes their job easier so they are more likely to spend time with you on it and you will get better feedback.
Don’t forget to thank them in some way for their time and effort – they are then more likely to help you next time you come to complete a self-reviewing exercise.