Self-Awareness Gets You Promoted

The more self-aware you are, the greater your leadership performance will be.

A recent study from PDI Ninth House and the University of Minnesota found that leaders who were out of touch with how others perceived them were more likely to see their careers stalled. When a leader’s self-perception was more positive than the way others saw them, they were less likely to be seen as high performers with promotion potential.

Out-of-touch leaders rated lowest on the following six behaviors:

  • Demonstrates awareness of own strengths and weaknesses
  • Develops effective working relationships with higher management
  • Creates an environment where people work their best
  • Expresses disagreement tactfully and sensitively
  • Develops effective working relationships with peers
  • Has the confidence and trust of others

On the other hand, leaders whose self-ratings were lower than the ratings they received from others were more likely to be seen as strong performers. There is a risk, however, to rating yourself less competent than others perceive you. The study recognized that those who self-deprecate and do not give themselves credit for their skill and contribution are often overlooked. When they didn’t accurately recognize their strengths, it was less likely that others would have the opportunity to do so either.

The study highlights what I often experience when using 360-degree feedback to coach leaders. Those who rate themselves higher than others are less likely to hear the messages in the feedback. Those who are more critical of themselves often lack the confidence they need to share their strengths with others.

The key is to accurately identify your strengths and development needs. The more you understand how you impact others, the more effectively you can influence and manage your relationships. For example, a few years ago I worked with a manager who believed strongly that he had mastered the skills required to be a top-level leader. He saw himself as an analytical thinker, as a relationship builder, and as a coach to his staff.

Unfortunately, the rest of the organization did not see it this way. He was consistently rated lower than he rated himself on his writing skills, his listening skills, and his big picture-thinking skills. When he received feedback from others, he immediately dismissed it and justified why others rated him the way they did. Because he didn’t really hear the feedback he was receiving, he was unable to create a development plan to respond to it. He was too prideful to see the truth.

It was no surprise when he called a few years later to tell me he had been passed over for yet another promotion. He expressed his frustration about not getting the jobs he wanted. He strongly believed the reason he was not getting promoted had nothing to do with him and everything to do with the organization, the politics, and the other candidates.

Knowing that self-awareness is the foundation of effective leadership and career success, I responded with, “Well maybe the feedback you got two years ago might give you the answer.” I was afraid he wouldn’t be open to that feedback either.

Surprisingly, he was ready to use the feedback to concentrate on his own development. Together we used the perceptions of others to create a development plan that focused on his writing and analytical skills. By acknowledging the feedback of others, he is able to tackle his challenges head on. By the way, he just got promoted.

How do others see you? How do you see yourself? The closer these two views are to one another, the more effective you will be as a leader.

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