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Sunday, September 28, 2008

How well do we really know ourselves?

Probably not as well as we think. And yet, truly understanding oneself is perhaps one of the most significant differentiators of great leaders from merely good or even poor leaders. This is the realm of emotional intelligence (EI or EQ), a term popularized by Daniel Goleman in his published books from the late 1990s.

Components of EI include empathy, organizational awareness, inspirational leadership, influence, developing others, collaboration, conflict management, optimism, and the like. However, at the core, and perhaps most fundamental to EI is self-awareness. Being truly in touch with ourselves, our emotions, and how we process information is not a simple task. As Aristotle once said, “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But, to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy.”

When I first started my professional career, I quickly learned that the skills possessed by the most successful employees were not purely intelligence-based (everyone was very smart in the field I worked – electrical engineering), but rather what I called “soft skills”. The people who were full of passion, energy, and enthusiasm … the ones who worked very well in teams, had good personalities, and had a great sense of humor (whether overt or not) – these were the people who did very well. These people rarely, if ever, lost their temper and were able to easily resonate with others.

To this day, when I interview people for a role in my company, I am much more concerned with their soft-skills than their IQ, grades, or particular degree. Of course raw intelligence matters, but only to a degree … it’s the soft skills that really tip the scale.

But, in order to really hone those soft skills (which, by the way, can be learned and developed to a large degree), one needs to first understand their current baseline. And, the best way I’ve found to establish such a baseline is to “get a 360”. Getting a 360 is the process by which feedback is obtained from your peers, your bosses, your subordinates, and even your clients/customers (a 360 degree view of your world).

Best if the feedback:

  • Is solicited from a broad range of individuals (not your best friends)
  • Asks the right set of questions to derive the essential characteristics
  • Is collected by a 3rd party organization that can effectively process all the data and “anonymize” the results

I’ve had great success with both the Clark-Wilson types of surveys and most recently with the Telios Leadership Institute in Philadelphia, for which the managing director is Annie McKee, co-author of Resonant Leadership. But a word of caution is in order: the first time you see your processed 360 results, you may have a negatively defensive reaction. We tend to be unaware of many of our developmental opportunities (a term I much prefer to “weaknesses”), at least consciously. But, working with an experienced coach who can help build and monitor a personalized development plan is a huge step toward leadership greatness.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I bet you are a great sport at the 360 torture!

For the rest of us ordinary mortals it remains an annual chore to be delayed rather than embraced.

I just have to remember that the staff hate it even more than me - so it must be good for them.