Saturday, May 4, 2013

What is True Self Awareness and Why is Important for Personal/Professional Development?

You know my opinion that when it comes to professional development, you get out of a program what you put into it.  So now you get my opinion on the single most important element of personal/professional development.


What is it?  Self awareness is knowing your strengths and how to maximize them, knowing your weaknesses and how to buffer them, knowing that you have blind spots and being open to feedback about them, and being willing to do the necessary reflection and work to constantly improve yourself.

I have observed so many people in leadership development programs (1 hour to 18 month) listen to an amazing instructor describe an action, reaction, or career derailer and immediately speak up and identify someone else who has that quality.  You would not believe how often, that person has the same quality.  However, they often even follow up with because of my experience working with that person I make a point to not do this.  Awkward...  Honestly, this person truly lacks self-awareness and will struggle to improve his or her leadership skills.  (TIP: If you are constantly talking about other people in your organization's weaknesses or faults, you are probably not getting the most out of a personal/professional development program.)

Ironically, in many cases, you will see this person continually promoted for one reason or another.  The moral of this story?  Personal/Professional Development does not always equal career advancement.  If you are interested in getting a promotion and are taking classes simply to check the box and say you did, please don't waste your time.  Find a mentor who is similar to you and has a job you would like in the future and work with that person on a one-to-one basis.

Another clue that you are not a prime candidate for a personal/professional development program is if you feel that your knowledge and skills already exceed those of the instructor and everyone else in the room and there is nothing for you left to learn.  Again, if you are viewing it as a "check-the-box" opportunity, don't waste your time.


If, however, you are interested in engaging in self-reflection, improving your personal and leadership skills, applying them at whatever level you are, and possibly being a culture change agent for your organization - seek out personal and professional development opportunities.  Don't worry if you have heard something about that content before.  (TIP: Personally, I attend sessions taught by other individuals in areas I teach, not to steal their material or judge the competition, but because I truly learn something new every time.)

I am a big fan of Development Journals and constantly update a page of Journal Prompts to help you in the process.  This document should be only for you and so it should be a safe place where you can truly reflect on your strengths, weaknesses, feedback, and goals for improvement.

To the extent that you think about others during a development program, focus on what you have learned about them and how you can change the way you interact with them to improve the working relationship.  For example, if you attend a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Session and you find out that the co-worker you can't get along with is an Extravert and the reason he or she drives you crazy is because they dominate meetings and tend to assume you agree with everything you say, do not say to yourself "that is my co-worker's weakness."  Instead concentrate on how can I speak up more in meetings to get across my opinions, especially when they differ so I can properly communicate my disagreements?  See the shift?  (TIP: Make notes on the agenda before the meeting and list at least five points you could make during the meeting and challenge yourself to say at least two of them.  After the meeting, write an e-mail summarizing your unbiased understanding of the discussion points on both sides, the tasks going forward, and any reservations or questions you may still have.)

When you identify a strength, determine what long-term, proactive, culture changing projects you could design or execute based on your strengths and put together a proposal to do so.  Make sure that others around you see this strength in you.  People who have a preference for Introversion on the MBTI scale, often tend to keep what they do best to themselves.  (TIP: If this is you, write down substantive thoughts you have on the issues in your office in your journal and challenge yourself to have a conversation around at least one of them with a person involved in the project each day.)

When you identify a weakness, ask yourself "is this a career-derailer (like inter-personal skills) or critical to my job now or the next job I would like?"

1. If the weakness is a career-derailer, get help immediately.  I highly recommend coaching alone or in conjunction with a formal development program for any time of development work because it gives you a champion who will challenge you and help you learn to find the solutions in yourself.

2. If the weakness is critical to the job you have now, I recommend finding someone to team with in the meantime who has these skills to improve the quality of work immediately while being able to watch someone with that strength in action in an environment that is important to you.  Journal about the things that person does that make the difference, practice new ways of doing things, journal about the results, refine your ideas and repeat the cycle.

3. If the weakness is critical to the job you want next, seek out a mentor and training.  Find ways to step outside of your comfort zone and practice the skill on-the-job, through training, coaching, etc.

4. If the weakness is not critical to any job you have now or seek to obtain, don't worry about it.  You cannot be an expert at everything and you are far better off improving a strength that is critical for the next job you want than working on a weakness that is completely unrelated.

Constantly seek feedback.  The best way to do this (courtesy of Scott Eblin, author of The Next Level) is to do a listening tour and ask others "What are the three most important skills someone in my position needs."  By giving them the hypothetical question, they feel more free to give complete feedback.  If you start hearing something repeatedly it may be an indication that this is one thing you might want to work on even if they do not say "you need to ..."

Set goals for yourself with specific tasks and benchmarks.  Put them in your journal and somewhere you can see them every day.  Try to do something each day towards the goal.  Stretch yourself outside of your comfort zone.  And most importantly, recognize your successes!

What are your thoughts - does self awareness contribute to the development process or is it true change curriculum driven?