We live in an era of participation trophies and a business environment that has become largely focused on identifying and celebrating strengths. But there is new and growing evidence that personal weaknesses, the things we don’t know about ourselves as leaders, are the most likely to cause our career to go off track.
I recently surveyed 100 managers and leaders who had been fired, demoted or plateaued in their performance in an effort to understand why so many talented people are failing. (Note: Between 50%-67% of all managers and leaders will encounter derailment.) The resounding answer revealed that the culprit is personal blind spots—being unaware of a debilitating weakness in your interpersonal behavior, and being unwilling, when confronted with evidence, to make adjustments. Research indicates that those who have an inflated sense of their own skills and who understate these interpersonal issues are six times more likely to fail than those with accurate self-awareness.
Getting things done through others—the essence of leadership—requires a combination of technical skills (being proficient in areas important to the area of business), intrapersonal skills (strong self-management skills which are driven by self-understanding and self-control) and interpersonal skills (the ability to develop and foster strong relationships and gain the enlistment of others). What our research indicated was that job proficiency simply isn’t enough. Without self-awareness and the ability to work well with others, managers’ and leaders’ careers are in dire risk of derailing.
Stuart Kaplan, the director of leadership recruiting at Google, agrees. In a recent conversation he told me, “As you progress in your career, your relationship with others is more important than your knowledge of the relationship to the data. You have to suppress your ego, let go of having the answer and embrace the relational world. [Leadership] becomes less about having competencies and more about engendering trust.”
“You have to suppress your ego, let go of having the answer and embrace the relational world. [Leadership] becomes less about having competencies and more about engendering trust.”
How do leaders uncover and address their blind spots in an effort to lead more effectively? Because of our very human propensity for inaccurate self-diagnosis, the key lies in developing a support system to help leaders understand how their behavior is holding them back. Some best practices include:
Taking a 360-degree feedback review. Confidential, anonymous feedback from the people you work with, centering specifically on leadership, communication, team development, peer group alignment and interpersonal skills. To know it is to manage it.
Seeking a coach to gain a better understanding of these self-defeating behaviors. Give the results of the 360-degree review to a coach (or at least a trusted associate) who can help you delve deeper into your negative behaviors.
Examining and addressing your “overused strengths.” Nearly all of us have a strength that, when used in excess, becomes a real liability. Like the self-proclaimed “high integrity” boss who, in reality, is perceived to be holier-than-thow, pedantic and exasperating. What’s yours?
Just listening. It’s a lost art! Adopt an attitude that everyone can teach you something. In every conversation, consider that the person with whom you’re talking knows something that you don’t. Listen without interrupting, avoiding the tendency to jump in and “add value” to another person’s point. Actively listen—nod and jot down notes, etc. and don’t instantly judge the other person’s point. Good listeners first seek to understand, and then to be understood.
Working to maintain your sense of calm self-possession, regardless of circumstances. Maintain your equanimity—a feeling of calm self-possession—regardless of circumstances. Self-defeating behaviors are most likely to pop out in charged situations, often when you lose your bearing in the heat of the moment.
No matter where you sit in the org chart, the time to self-evaluate is now. Retrench, seek counsel and effectively address a wayward personality trait. The price of ignoring it is far too high.