Yeast is the ingredient that makes bread rise. Similarly, enhanced self-knowledge is the ingredient in professional development that makes careers rise and allows you to develop to your full potential. The most effective leaders have a high level of insight into themselves: their talents, their weaknesses, their desires, their patterns of thought and reaction. Self-knowledge is the ability to see yourself as others see you and to understand your essential nature. Once you gain a sufficient level of self-knowledge, you can accept both your strengths and weaknesses and manage others’ strengths and weaknesses with greater skill and mastery.
The recent problems at HP tells us that winning corporate strategies require the same foundation of self-knowledge (though we use different terminology in corporate consulting). As you know, the giant of Silicon Valley recent went into a tailspin and fired its CEO. Critics said HP lost its way. It forgot what its strengths were and how to leverage them in a brutal, competitive environment. Not to take sides in the Apple vs PC fight, but Apple seems to know and be quite comfortable with who it is.
Like corporations, if we want to succeed we need to regularly re-evaluate what we are about and gear our assets to the changing world around us.
The Psychology Behind the Theory
In Mastering Self-Leadership, Charles Manz and Christopher Neck say, “If we ever hope to be effective leaders of others, we need first to be able to lead ourselves effectively.”1 In order to lead yourself well, you must have a high degree of both self-knowledge and self-awareness. Self-knowledge refers to the accuracy of your understanding of both your strengths and leadership limitations. Self-awareness is your ability to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and behaviors as they happen. The distinction may seem fuzzy, so we will focus on self-knowledge in this article.
A useful structure for understanding what you know and don’t know about yourself is the Johari Window, named after its creators, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. It’s a great tool for mapping personal awareness:
The Johari Window
|| Known to Self
|| Not known to Self
| Known to Others
|| Open Self
| Not known to Others
|| Hidden Self
|| Unknown Self
The matrix shows how aspects of yourself – your personality traits, experiences, thoughts, feelings, reactions, mental models2, etc – are either known or unknown to both you and others. Notice that each of the quadrants in the window has a descriptive name for that area of the self: Open Self, Blindspots, Hidden Self and Unknown Self. Each of these “windows” represents parts of you.
What You Don’t Know Can Kill You
Highway accident statistics say that there are approximately 840,000 side-to-side blind spot collisions with 300 fatalities every year in the United States. Likewise being unaware of what you are and how you are perceived can kill your chances to advance and succeed in your career and life.
Executive coaching helps people move the things from the right, harmful side of their matrix (what they do not know about themselves), to the left side, where knowledge can become power – power to build on strengths and overcome weaknesses.
The scariest and perhaps most damaging quadrant on the right side of the matrix is aptly called Blind Spots. It is what others see in you that you do not see in yourself. To remove Blind Spots, executive coaching teaches clients proven methods for soliciting feedback from others. Using personality and personal strength assessments coaches can help the client create a context for interpreting and acting on the information they gather. Likewise coaching helps clients examine their career and life experiences to key in on their Blind Spots.
The other problematic quadrant in the matrix is the lower right and called “Unknown Self”. While it sounds a little spooky, this part of you that you and others do not see can in fact be a land of great opportunity.
A great football coach once said that greatness is not taught, it is revealed. The goal of coaching in this quadrant is to reveal and exploit strengths and potential that were previously unknown or unappreciated. In addition to some of the tools used to attack Blind Spots, coaches often help clients select challenging assignments that take them out of their comfort zone and then interpret and leverage what they learn.
This true story illustrates Blindspots problems and how they can to be addressed:
A talented young woman had risen quickly to a management position in a company. Her promotions were based on her great subject knowledge and hard work but her advancement suddenly stalled. She could not understand why. A coach was called in who prescribed a 360O assessment.
The woman was shocked by the results; while respected for her smarts, colleagues roundly criticized her leadership skills. The coach helped her work through the feedback and had her complete several personality indicators to reveal strengths she could be exploit to improve her performance. Through the sometimes painful process she removed many of her Blind Spots and with her coach’s help modified her thought patterns and behaviors and revamped her approach to leadership. Her team is back on track and she plans to do a follow-up 360 to test results.
And here’s an example of someone who decreased his Unknown Self: This young man was afraid of flying. He had never flown anywhere in his life. When offered the opportunity early in his career to make a presentation in Seattle, which was 3,000 miles away, he reluctantly accepted. He learned to manage his fear of flying and is now an enthusiastic world traveler. No one, especially himself, could have predicted that he would grow to love traveling. That aspect of himself, the avid world traveler, was transformed from an aspect of his Unknown Self into an area of his Open Self by saying yes to this challenging assignment.
The benefits of increased self-knowledge are many. Leaders who have deep self-knowledge operate at the highest levels of effectiveness. They understand what motivates them, they know what triggers negative emotions or reactions in themselves, and they are aware of their strengths. They act authentically in ways that align with both their values and their personality. They are wise enough to neutralize their weaknesses by admitting them and delegating to others the tasks pertaining to their weaknesses. They seek to develop themselves in ways that build on their strengths and challenge them to become the best they can be. And, because they know themselves so well, they are able to motivate others and create highly productive, happy teams.
Want some yeast in your professional development? Try self-knowledge. Enhancing your self-knowledge and awareness is one of the best ways to raise your effectiveness.
1. Charles Manz and Chris Neck, Mastering Self-Leadership: Empowering Yourself for Personal Excellence (5th Edition), Prentice Hall, 2009
2. Mental models are patterns of thought and reaction that are formed in childhood and youth by your life experiences. These thought patterns are strongly wired into the brain and must be examined in order to heighten self-knowledge and design new thought patterns and behaviors.