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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Aug 16, 2019


Accurate self-assessment sits at the core of leadership effectiveness. This week we look at five ways you can help ensure you have a clear picture of your strengths and areas for development.



Welcome to episode 49 of the Leadership Today podcast. This week we’re exploring a question sent in by a listener named Laura. She asks “How would you go about critically analysing and reflecting on your own leadership skills, individual traits, abilities and effectiveness?”

Central to this question is accurate self-assessment. Daniel Goleman sees accurate self-assessment, the ability to accurately assess our strengths and areas for development, as a central part of Emotional Intelligence. It’s the foundation upon which we can develop further.

As we discussed in last week’s episode, the Johari Window highlights that there are things we know about ourselves that others also see in us. That’s the quadrant where you will find accurate self-assessment.

Two major forces that work against accurate self-assessment. The first is that most people overestimate their performance - they see themselves operating at above average levels compared to those around them. We explored this in our prisoners and performance ratings episode. Put simply, most people believe their performance is better than most people, and this clearly can’t be the case. Pair that with the second aspect, which is that many leaders suffer from imposter syndrome - they feel like a fraud and that they don’t have the necessary skills, qualifications, capabilities etc. to be an effective leader. I’ve coached many leaders who experience both of these at the same time - they feel like they’re an imposter in their role, while also feeling like their performance is still above others in the organisation. These two factors combine to mean most leaders have room for improvement when it comes to accurate self-assessment. So what can we do about it?

Feedback is the first and main way to increase the accuracy of our self-assessment. I was serving on a senior leadership team when I received some feedback which increased the accuracy of my self-assessment by highlighting a blind spot. As I walked out of a leadership team meeting, one of my colleagues asked if I was alright. I felt alright, so I said “yes”. She then said “the reason I ask is that during that meeting you looked really angry”. Now, this was completely out of the blue for me. I didn’t feel angry during the meeting. It was a challenging meeting with lots of complex things to think about. It turns out, that when I was thinking about something complex, my resting face looked angry. The feedback helped to make my self-assessment more accurate - I thought I was doing okay in meetings, but this behaviour was getting in the way. I focused more on smiling during meetings, nodding in agreement, asking more questions when I was uncertain and letting people know when I needed more time to think about something.

A second approach is to identify your strengths. How would you respond if I asked you to write down a list of 20 things that you are good at? When I’ve asked people to do exactly that during leadership development programs, most people initially see it as an impossible task - how could I possibly write down 20 things I’m good at? They then typically start the list with a few ideas, before asking “What’s your definition of good?”. And that’s the critical question. What does it take for something to make it onto your “I’m good at this” list? Does ‘good’ mean you have to be the best in the world? Better than everyone else at your organisation? The best you can possibly be in that area with no room for further improvement? Each of those definitions shortens your list of potential strengths. We often set the bar for what we consider to be our strengths way too high. One practical step you can take from today’s podcast is to list your strengths, making it as long and as comprehensive a list as you can. Ask others who know you well what they see as your strengths - don’t argue back, just add them to your list. We’re far better off developing by focusing on our strengths than by obsessing about our weaknesses.

Laura also asked about individual traits, and this links to the third approach I recommend to build the accuracy of your self-assessment. I encourage you to undertake a broad-based personality profile to identity likely strengths and risks in relation to your role and career ambitions. There may be options to complete one of these through your organisation. The tool I use covers 15 personality traits across the domains of people and relationships, tasks and projects, and drives and emotions. This helps to compare your preferences to others to see what is unique about you and your approach to work. If your organisation doesn’t use these tools, contact me via the website - I can set you up for the questionnaire and walk you through the feedback over the phone or via video conference.

The fourth area is effectiveness. I encourage people I coach to look at input measures as well as outcome measures. Our work rate is really important, and this can get lost when we’re just focusing on outcomes. If I take this podcast as an example, the number of podcast downloads and the number of reviews posted are both outcome measures. I actually don’t have much direct influence over either. However, the input measures of writing and recording a podcast each week is something I can control, and these inputs are necessary in achieving the outcome measures.

The fifth suggestion I have is to measure progress. We often underestimate just how far we’ve come in our development because we don’t reflect back to how much we’ve learned. Look back one month, three months or six months and think about the things you have achieved. Also list the skills and capabilities you have developed over the last year. And if the list is short, then build ongoing development into your calendar.

Accurate self-assessment is crucial for high performance and satisfaction. I encourage you to seek feedback, identify your strengths, assess your personality traits, measure your effectiveness by input measures, and measure your progress.

Thanks again for listening and sharing the podcast with others. If you have a question or feedback, go to the website and head to the connect page where you can send me a message.