One of the most important tasks of becoming a great leader and a successful Executive (and those things are not necessarily the same thing) is to REALLY understand yourself. You need to understand what makes you tick–what motivates you, what slows you down, what scares you and what gets in your way. You need to understand how others see you. You also need to understand that what goes on in your head is absolutely invisible to those around you. They don’t know why you do what you do and they certainly don’t know what you are thinking. You need to understand your strengths and your weaknesses, your learning style and your interpersonal style. And then you need to show enough of your internal workings and motivations to help others understand you.
We all think we know ourselves. We are mostly wrong. That is why it is really good to get feedback from others. I highly recommend getting 360 assessments done–pretty regularly. These are assessments that get feedback from you, your boss and your subordinates. When you look at your opinion of yourself against that of your boss and your subordinates, you frequently get a surprise. If your boss doesn’t agree with your opinion of yourself, then it’s important to note the differences. If your subordinates don’t agree with you and your boss about your strengths–another important factor. These instruments just measure behaviors, though–what can actually be seen. When you get feedback that indicates behaviors that can derail your career, it is important that you CHANGE that behavior. It is possible for you to change your behavior without understanding how and why you do what you do. You just change. Right? Most of us can’t do that.
The Why of Your Behavior
When I identify that I need to change a behavior–interpersonal interactions, eating, exercising, time management–it really helps me to understand WHY I do (or don’t do) what I do. For example, I used to get feedback that I was “unreadable.” As I tried to figure out why people thought that, I also tried to figure out WHY I was unreadable. What did they mean that I was unreadable? I started asking people (not the one’s who had given the feedback, but others): “What does it mean when people say I’m unreadable? Why do they care? What could I do differently?” The answers surprised me. It turns out that I used few happy facial expressions. I wasn’t aware of this. Whether I was happy, pissed or someplace in between, I was using the same facial expressions. I had very neutral (or so I thought) facial expressions. I really wasn’t aware of this. When I thought long and hard about it, I realized that some things had happened in my childhood that made me very guarded about my thoughts and feelings. OK. That was legitimate. Then. Those things no longer existed. And not only that, it was interfering with my effectiveness as a leader because when left to their own imagination, people frequently assume the worse (that I’m pissed AT THEM). I was able to (deliberately) change this because I was made aware of it, I asked about it to understand it, and then I could persuade myself that the coping behavior from my childhood was no longer necessary. I was able to change more easily with this realization.
Some of the things that can impact the way your are and can shape your behaviors as a leader are:
- Your birth order and your relationships with your siblings
- Your relationships with your parents
- Your beliefs about how things work (your mental models)
- Your beliefs about the “rules” of organizations
- What you believe about hierarchy and how that fits with your organization, your boss and your subordinates
- Your beliefs about what makes people tick (Theory X, Theory Y)
- What you believe about people’s responsibility to the organization and the organization’s responsibility to people
Start With Feedback
It all starts with feedback, though. You can’t know what behaviors are really working and not working unless people tell you. They probably won’t tell you unless you ask them. Once you know the behaviors that you should address, think long and hard about where those behaviors come from. Then do something about it.
Sooner rather than later.