“Wad some Power the giftie gie us,
To see oursels as ithers see us,
It wad frae mony a blunder free us…”
OK, so if you don’t speak Scots, you might need a little help with that. What Scottish poet Robert Burns, whose 259th birthday is being celebrated today by Scots and their descendants around the world*, was telling us is:
Wouldn’t it be great if some Power would give us the gift of being able to see ourselves the way others do? It would sure save us from a lot of blunders.
In fact, we already have that gift: Self-Awareness. Although most people seem to have returned the gift to the store, or perhaps not yet opened the package. They barely recognize themselves in a mirror. The particularly pernicious nature of hardcore lack of self-awareness is, by definition, self-reinforcing, and therefore self-defeating, as was pointed out in a Facebook post I saw recently (by a guy who thinks he’s funny):
Some, though, either naturally, or by paying attention to feedback from others, have a pretty clear idea of how they come across. These people, according to Tasha Eurick, author of the 2017 book Insight, account for only about 15% of those she studied. And yet, according to Eurick, those who are more self-aware tend to perform better at work, get more promotions, and lead more effectively. And companies with more self-aware professionals perform better financially.
In 25 years of observing people in successful… and more blunderous organizations, I’ve known and observed a few keenly self-aware people (Dr. Eurick is probably pretty close with her 15% assessment). Based on what I’ve seen, here are some prescriptive ideas for those who want to develop their self-awareness:
1. First and foremost, Pay Attention! And just be open and receptive. That’s at least half the battle. There’s no shortage of incoming data to tell us others’ points of view on our favorite topic – ourselves – if we’ll just access it. I’m pretty comfortable on stage in front of an audience. For a while there, I avoided feedback on my presentations (which was a pretty stupid thing to do), because I thought “I’ve got this,” and, if I’m really honest, because I feared the blow to my ego that such feedback might deliver. Then I changed. I started seeking out, and, get this, listening to what people were telling me. And guess what. It really wasn’t all that painful. And I think it’s made me a better speaker. (Hire me, to see for yourself 😉
2. Don’t be the Witch in the Wiz. In the musical, “The Wiz”, an adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz”, the Wicked Witch of the West sings a catchy song in which she adjures her minions not to bring her “No Bad News”. And they don’t. And Dorothy melts her. Oh well… Maybe if she hadn’t been known to “shoot the messenger”, she wouldn’t have suffered such a fate. Don’t bite the hand that feedbacks you. Feedback is, indeed, a gift. Thank, don’t attack, those who give you that gift.
3. Pick a trusted partner. Find someone you trust, and with whom you share a mutual relationship of caring. Give them full permission (in fact almost demand it) to tell you things you need to know (but may not want to hear). Proactively solicit their views from time to time (but don’t get annoying about it…) Offer to serve in the same capacity for them.
4. Create a self-aware organization. On a regular basis, formally seek out input on your entire enterprise, through the deployment of employee surveys. Then use the results as part of your overall organizational dashboard. We can help with that.
* By the way, Scots and their descendants really DO celebrate Robert Burns on January 25 every year. He’s probably the only poet in history to inspire such a celebration. If you never knew a “Burns Supper” was a thing, you might find this of interest.