Often when I interview potential candidates to be placed on a leadership team one of the questions I ask of them is “If hired, what will you need to work on in executive leadership coaching?” If the candidate is self-aware and able to describe what they might work on – great! That is one step in the right direction. If they aren’t able to articulate a good understanding of what their leadership development needs are – yikes! Strike One. Yes, our clients that ask us to help put the right people on their teams really do value and want to hire individuals who have a high-level of introspection and desire for personal and professional growth.
Most leadership talent searches rarely include ‘self-awareness’ as a competency, which, in my humble opinion, should be a top criterion. Interestingly, a high self-awareness score is one of the strongest predictors of overall success. This is not altogether surprising as executives who are aware of their weaknesses are often better able to hire subordinates who perform well in categories in which the leader lacks acumen. These leaders are also more able to entertain the idea that someone on their team may have an idea that is even better than their own. Successful leaders know where their natural inclinations lie and use this knowledge to boost those inclinations or compensate for them.
Would you believe that self-awareness in leaders even impacts a companies’ bottom line? In a study of the stock performance of 486 publicly traded companies, Korn/Ferry International found that companies with strong financial performance tend to have leaders with higher levels of self-awareness than poorly performing companies. Granted, self-awareness isn’t one of those big marquee leadership qualities like vision, charisma, strategic thinking or the ability to speak eloquently to an audience…but it’s a quieter supplementary quality that can be a catalyst in an organization.
This is all great to know, but how to do become aware of some of your strengths and weaknesses? Some of us know what some of them are. For example, I know numbers don’t come naturally to me so I have to spend more time and energy with my accountant than most people do. No big surprise. But, when it comes to relationships and creativity, I’m your person. Each one of us probably has a laundry list of things we know we are naturally good or not so good at. But, are we always accurate in our self-perceptions and how often do we have a blindspot or not realize that our impact is different than our intent?
A Reputation Audit
Have you ever heard of a reputation audit? Typically, this is a service provided by public relations firms that help clients better understand their customers. However, over the years we have utilized a hybrid of this for leaders in their own development. At Steople, we believe that each and every one of use has a leadership reputation. People know what they can or can’t rely on you for. Being extremely brave at asking and then knowing what those things are can have a positive impact on your leadership effectiveness. This is super practical, doesn’t cost and thing and can be incredibly motivating for change. Here are a few suggestions on how you can implement your own reputation audit in relation to your leadership development:
Interview Your Team Members. Make a list of people whose opinions you value and have a trusted relationship with. These are people who will be straight-shooters and value the relationship enough to give you good honest feedback. Schedule a time with each of those people and let them know what you are trying to accomplish by meeting. Ask them to give you insight into how they see you. Ask them what they can and can’t rely on you for. Be sure to listen, take notes, ask clarifying questions and then thank them for their candor.
Survey Option. If you just don’t feel that you can get that kind of feedback from people face-to-face then do a survey. Ensure that you are asking a well-rounded group. The most accurate feedback you can receive comes from peers (they have first hand knowledge of what you are facing every day), the most positive feedback typically comes from your boss (they always see you at your best) and, typically, the less positive feedback comes from your direct reports (they see you day in and day out and expect a lot from you). Be sure that the survey includes questions, such as simply asking “What should I stop doing, start doing or keep doing?” Most people find it really helpful to have open-ended questions such as “What additional comments or suggestions might you have to improve my leadership effectiveness?” Collate all the answers and be open to what the feedback has to say.
Create an Action Plan. As you conduct your reputation audit, you will probably be surprised because you’ll hear or read negatives you were not aware of and you’ll hear or read some positives that will encourage you. The important thing here is to pay attention to the themes. Based on those themes you will want to chose 2-3 action items that you will want to work on changing. Never get defensive about the feedback or try to circle back around to those who gave you the feedback – otherwise future feedback will be shut down for them. For accountability purposes, tell key people on your team and in your life what you are working on in your own leadership journey. People love to see change and success in others!
Following through with these actions takes a lot of courage, but in the end…isn’t it better to know what the perceptions are out there about you instead of walking around unaware? Knowing then allows you to be intentional in your actions to change and, quite honestly, models what it takes to be a great leader! Let us know if we can help you along in any way.