Manager, Know Thyself

Features - Professional Development

Without a good grasp of your strengths and weaknesses, you won't know what you most need to be a great leader.

adobe stock

Without self-awareness, you can't be a great leader. It's just that simple. If you don't have a good grasp of who you are — your strengths and weaknesses, the nuances of your personality, how others perceive you — you can only "fake" being a leader. You can't lead in the authentic way that engages people and enables them to do their best work. And here's the real problem: You won't know what areas you need to work on.

Being a great manager requires skills in many different areas. Yet you can't fix everything at once. You must apply your focus where you need the most help. That takes self-awareness. Yet studies consistently show that most human beings have blind spots that hold us back. We don't know ourselves very well—that is, unless we make a conscious, deliberate effort to do so

This quality is deeply valued by many professionals. In fact, 59.8 percent of managers believe that it's highly important to understand how their own behavior impacts other people.

Here are some tips to help you raise your self-awareness and be a better manager.

Discover where you stand on the "Big Five" personality model.

The Big Five Personality Traits model is based on findings from several independent researchers in the 1950s and ultimately named "The Big Five" by Lewis Goldberg. The model measures five key dimensions of personality: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. By understanding how you score on each dimension, you can make sure you're in the right role and/or take action in "low score" areas to improve your performance.

Learn your personal strengths (and weaknesses).

The SWOT analysis is a popular tool that helps businesses identify their strengths and weaknesses, but it can also help managers identify their own strong and weak areas.

  • Look at your strengths. What skills, certifications, or connections do you have that others don't? What do you do particularly well? What resources can you access?
  • Examine your weaknesses. What tasks do you struggle to do well and why? What do the people around you see as your weaknesses? What poor work habits do you have? What's holding you back from being fully successful at work?
  • Explore opportunities. Brainstorm emerging trends that excite you in your market or issues that customers complain about that you can address. And be sure to identify opportunities that come from your strengths.
  • Observe any threats. What could undermine you or cause problems at work? Is your job or technology changing in a way that could be worrisome? Could any of your weaknesses lead to threats?

If you don't already have clear personal goals, set them now.

Setting goals gives you long-term vision and short-term motivation, both of which you need to be a successful manager. That's why you should invest a few hours in thinking about what you'd like your future to look like. Consider areas like career, family, education, relationships, personal finances, and personal enjoyment.

Remember the SMART mnemonic. Your dreams should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. This helps you clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life.

adobe stock

Shore up your self-confidence.

The way we view our own abilities is a key determinant of self- efficacy and self-esteem. We can pump ourselves up with positive self-talk and listen to people who flatter us, but this can lead us to become overconfident and to fall flat on our faces. Alternatively, we can put ourselves down and listen to naysayers and critics, leading us to back away from opportunities and not achieve our potential. No one wants to be managed by a flustered boss who doubts his or her own judgment.

The key is to strike a healthy balance between these two extremes. Research has shown that being slightly overconfident in your own abilities is useful because it allows you to take on challenges from which you can learn.

Manage your bad moods.

Just as we need to be appropriately self-confident as managers, we also need to be aware of and manage the emotions we project to members of our teams. From the moment we come in the door in the morning to the time we leave, people read our words and our body language. For our teams to be happy and productive, we need to manage negative thoughts and project positive emotions. More than this, we need to be positive for our own good at work.

There are tricks you can use to quickly boost your mood, like forcing a smile onto your face for several minutes before you enter the office. But what you really need to do is understand and turn around the negative thinking that underpins your own negative emotions.

Until you truly know yourself, you will never be a great leader. Only by becoming self-aware can you play to your strengths, understand your own personal goals, forge authentic connections with your team and colleagues, and inspire others to do the same. Start getting to know yourself today and see where it takes you and your team tomorrow.

James Manktelow and Julian Birkinshaw are coauthors of Mind Tools for Managers: 100 Ways to Be a Better Boss