In my last post, I opened the conversation about the “original” leadership principles. Number one on the list is know yourself and seek self improvement. Just by virtue of the fact that you’re actively reading this blog, you have clearly taken the first step in that direction (at least I hope you’re here for self improvement and not just irreverent and witty banter).
But what’s this principle really about? Knowing yourself. It’s about taking a hard look in the mirror and assessing yourself warts and all. We all have our deficiencies. The difference between the Average Joe/Josephine and a solid leader is the solid leader is honest (sometimes painfully so) in their assessment of self. They first can admit they have weaknesses and they actively move toward fixing them or mitigating their deleterious effects (Yay! It’s been a while since I’ve been able to use “deleterious” in a sentence. Now THAT’S a fun word!).
The real challenge here is summoning up the courage to know yourself. There are a few ways you can get started pretty quickly though.
Recognize It’s Not You – It’s Your Behaviors
One reason it’s so hard to undertake this exercise is no one wants to feel bad about themselves. Examining “defects” is as appealing as realizing you have a zit on picture day. We all do stupid things (myself included) – that doesn’t mean WE are stupid. Only our actions are stupid (okay, I’ll admit – some of us ARE stupid but fixing that issue is beyond the scope of this blog).
My suggestion: separate the behavior from the person. This is about the way you act and show up (or fail to show up) as a leader. Go through old progress reviews and look for behavioral trends. Write the categories down and list incidents where things didn’t go well and where they did go well under each category.
You’ll start to see trends emerge from the events you list. Maybe you don’t listen enough. Or you’re overbearing. Or indecisive (or maybe you’re not. Then again, maybe you are. Or not. Or you are…).
Once you’ve identified behavioral trends (good and bad), think about ways that you can recognize such patterns emerging in your behavior and how you’ll either mitigate an issue before it starts or put yourself in positions where you can leverage those strengths you identify. The thing is, if you make it about the behavior versus being about you as a person it’s much easier to be objective and not take “failures” or shortcomings personally. Going through this exercise will get you well on the way toward knowing yourself.
Great leaders fix problems, especially problems within themselves. The first part of this introspective exercise simply makes you aware of your challenges. The difference maker here is if and how you go about improving yourself.
Make a list of the behaviors you want to change. Seek out others who are good at them and ask them what they do differently. Ask them to coach you (and it might even be folks who work on your team who you ask for this support – after all, they see you every day). Establish progress points and goals along the way so you can measure your improvement.
I know this is hard to do because it requires you to admit to others that you’re not good at everything. Want to be a great leader? Then get over it.
At one point a long time ago I had a particularly bad time during a consulting engagement. I knew I stunk up the place and my progress review was absolutely an accurate assessment of that performance. The partner who had to deliver the review was very apprehensive about doing so because they weren’t sure what my reaction would be to the feedback.
My response: “Okay. I get it. Now what?”
“Huh? You’re not upset?” was her response.
“Sure I’m upset but getting bent over it does me no good. The review is accurate. I have challenges. How are you going to work with me to get better at the things I’m not doing well at?” From that point forward, the conversation was extremely productive. She worked with me for several months and created opportunities for me to work on the rough spots as well as to demonstrate they had been smoothed out.
The critical word in this part of the exercise is “seek.” You have to look for the self-improvement here. It won’t just stroll along to assist you. Wanna be a better leader? Start by leading yourself through understanding, admission of weaknesses, and rigorous focus on improving your skills.
So how do you stay on top of “knowing yourself?” I’d love to hear your techniques and thoughts (yes, I’m fishing for comments here – please share as it makes us all better leaders in the long run).
– Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC