Evaluating your strengths? You won't find them in the mirror

publication date: May 30, 2013
 | 
author/source: Janet Gadeski

You’re probably wrong about how others really see you, strategy consultant Dorie Clark asserts in an article Janet Gadeski for the Harvard Business Review blog. Research backs her up. From Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, Clark quotes, “Studies of the effect of power on the power holder consistently find that power produces overconfidence and risk taking, insensitivity to others, stereotyping, and a tendency to see other people as a means to the power holder’s gratification.”

In plain language, the higher your rank, the worse you behave. And you’re not likely to hear about it from people you manage or even from your teammates. Neither group wants to affect their relationship with you. Instead, they’ll commiserate with one another – and spread the word to still more people.

Yet when it comes to advancing your career, how you see yourself doesn’t matter. What matters is how other people see you. You may not be able to afford an executive coach to analyze your style, but you can still discover where your professional brand stands by following her four recommendations.

Review your personal paper trail

Have you kept copies of performance reviews, letters of recommendation, and other formal or informal feedback? Read them again, looking for skills and qualities that are mentioned repeatedly, whether they’re positive or negative. Then accept and act on what you read.

Equally important, though Clark doesn’t mention it, is to notice what’s missing. If you think your interpersonal skills are off the chart, yet no-one acknowledges them in their accounts of your performance, that’s evidence you aren’t as influential, persuasive and diplomatic as you like to think.

Who are you online?

Time for the Google check. What comes up when you run a search on your name – managerial positions, guest speaking engagements, achievements, or something that conveys quite a different impression to professional peers who don’t know you? “If there are any damaging or erroneous links, it's better to find out now (so you can take action), rather than having a potential client or employer discover them,” Clark recommends.

Organize “360 interviews” about yourself

Clark draws this insight from leadership consultant Scott Edinger. He suggests pulling together a group that includes your manager, your trusted colleagues and your employees, and asking them four questions:

  1. What are my strengths? Ask for general categories first, such as character, personal capabilities, ability to get results, interpersonal skills and leading change. Then ask for specifics in each category. Here you’re looking for clearly defined traits and abilities like integrity, problem solving, and fostering teamwork. Avoid actually suggesting any of these qualities or others as examples so as not to steer your colleagues’ responses.
  2. What are my fatal flaws, the traits or inabilities that could lead me to fail in my job or derail my career?
  3. Which of my strengths is most important to this organization, and which of my leadership qualities, if I were truly outstanding, could have the biggest impact on this organization?
  4. Which of my strengths is most important to you?

Be sure you’re ready to hear both the positive and the negative. Colleagues and employees need to know you’ll accept their frankness as a favour. Then they’ll need to see day-to-day behaviour that proves your relationship with them is still strong (and, hopefully, better).

Hold your own focus group

This is different from a 360, although some of the insights may be similar. Bring a group of friends and colleagues together. Prepare a list of questions about your strengths, abilities, and areas your friends would like to see you explore. Ask a friend to moderate the group, and stay silent except for asking clarifying questions.

“We can’t separate the signal from the noise enough to grasp how the outside world really sees us,” Clark concludes. But by heeding what others write about us and say to us when we give them permission, we can learn much. Acting on the input from the activities Dorie Clark proposes just might transform your career.

Janet Gadeski, President of Hilborn and Editor of Hilborn Charity eNEWS, brings two decades of experience in fundraising and nonprofit management to her work of providing information and ideas to the leaders of Canada’s nonprofit sector. Contact her, janet@hilborn.com



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