When’s the last time you took a good look at yourself? I mean, when’s the last time you took stock of your professional strengths and weaknesses? I think it’s important to do this at least every five years or when we are making a transition such as a significant job change. Ultimately, I believe our true nature stays intact throughout life, but experiences and circumstances cause shifts in us. As we mature, we can choose what to cultivate in ourselves or what to let go.
In the Leadership Roadmap, a guide to planning your career, the first step is to create a vision. The second leg of the journey is to know oneself. Self-awareness is a life-long journey, but for our purposes, we are containing it to a point in time. Knowing oneself can be simply understanding your own values, goals, preferences, strengths and weaknesses – it’s important to our happiness to articulate those things. But in the world of work, that’s not enough. We need to understand our impact on others. How do others perceive you and what do they expect from you? If there’s a disconnect between how we see ourselves and how others see us, we can get derailed pretty fast. But, how can we know how others perceive us and our actions? (Especially in cultures like Minnesota where people are not likely to give negative feedback directly.)
Here are some tools to help.
- One of the most popular tools is a 360 degree feedback process. A 360 gathers information from self, superiors, peers and direct reports (employees who directly report to a leader), if there are any. The results are collated into a report. It’s important to use a reliable and validated tool that is administered by a trained professional. Generally, enough responses are required so that scores can be averaged to ensure anonymity of respondents. It’s really worth making an investment to have this done well. Many companies use 360’s to provide individuals with feedback for development and, at the same time, gather composite data about development needs across the organization.
- Engage a helpful hand. Ask someone you trust and you believe to have your best interests at heart, and is present with you in some degree of situations, to observe you and others’ reactions to you. This is one way of getting feedback so that you can make adjustments before there are negative consequences.
- Try Feedforward, a technique developed by executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith. If you think about it, feedback is about what happened in the past. Feedforward is a process to move you into the future positively. For example, choose a behavior or skill you want to learn or improve, such as public speaking. Ask five people, “How could I improve my public speaking?” Their response does not require them to know anything about you or make any judgment about you, you are simply asking for ideas about ways you could improve public speaking. From their responses, you can choose options that feel right to you. While this technique might be more useful in the development planning stage, I think it can be helpful as a tool for self assessment because it allows us to see things from another’s perspective.
- The Johari Window, a tool created in the 50’s, is a four-square model that illuminates parts of ourselves that we are aware of and show to others. The idea behind this model is that the more transparent we are with others, the more our relationships can be trusting and satisfying. To create a Johari Window for yourself with the help of a few friends and colleagues, go to http://kevan.org/johari. It’s limited to six words that describe you so it won’t be in-depth, but it’s easy and fun.
Once you’ve gathered information about how others perceive you, here are some reflection questions to determine how you can make use of it:
- How might this information affect my reputation with different groups and at different levels of the organization?
- What feedback have I received that is valuable to me and how can it help me move closer to my vision?
At the end of the day you can choose what feedback to accept and what to reject. The important thing to watch for is a cluster of clues. If you are getting some feedback in one area of life that is also showing up in another area, that might be a signal of something to address. The Leadership Roadmap was designed to help us align our vision and values, how we show up in the world and lead us to making the contribution we want to make in our lives.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about using any of these forms of feedback.