Self-awareness is the first step to better leadership. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you cannot improve on your weaknesses. If you are unaware of your strengths, you won’t reach your potential. A lack of knowledge about who you are and how you operate can lead you to overemphasize your strengths, to the point where they become a weakness.
One problem is that as we get into positions of more responsibility or higher authority, we receive less and less feedback on our performance. We also become more comfortable—after all, we have been successful in the past. Compounding that, power has a strong effect on our behavior—making us more susceptible to being more self-centered, less empathetic, and more likely to not walk the talk.
So what can be done about this? First of all, don’t assume that you know yourself. We humans are dynamic, adapting to new situations, other people, and different environments quickly. Just because you were agreeable and timid twenty years ago, don’t assume that is the way people perceive you today.
Assess and re-assess often:
Ask specific questions
Most people are reluctant to give feedback. It takes tremendous courage, not to mention trust, to go into your boss’s office and provide your negative evaluation after an event. Who does that? But the conversation is easier when you ask for the feedback:
“Can you help me out? I think I am focusing too much on the details of the project and I fear I am neglecting to share the bigger vision with everyone. Have you noticed this—what do you think?… Can you watch for it over the next few weeks? I’ll check back.”
It’s much easier for your team to help you out in this way.
How easy is it to dismiss feedback that we don’t agree with? Unfortunately, we can do this so automatically that we forget that we received the negative information in the first place! Create a feedback journal and write it all down, immediately—whether you choose accept the feedback or not. The bonus here is that you can read the positive feedback as a pick-me-up when you are down.
Keep it continuous
Most of us have opportunity to receive feedback annually, but why go that long without information that can help you succeed? Each month, work on a new goal and ask a learning partner for evidence of progress. Each month, ask your coworkers about things you need to do more of and things that you should stop doing. Phrase it like that so the feedback feels more helpful than hurtful.