Leaders – You Are Not As Good As You Think

Have you ever experienced a boss or senior leader who had little to no self-awareness? Someone who, as a supposed senior leader, didn’t really do much leading at all? If so, you are not alone! This article is for anyone who leads people (or aspires to lead), because as leaders we have a responsibility to know our blindspots and the impact it has on others. Those who do stand to benefit – research has shown that self-awareness is positively linked to better organizational performance.

For example, a study involving over 3600 managers revealed that “relative to lower-level leaders, higher-level leaders more significantly overvalued their skills (compared with others’ perceptions).” In fact, this pattern existed for 19 out of the 20 competencies the researchers measured! These included: emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, trustworthiness, empathy, and leadership performance. Bottom line: senior leaders often have an inaccurate perception of their abilities.

Tasha Eurich’s excellent HBR article highlights research her firm conducted with over 5000 people leaders, which bore out that only 10-15% of senior leaders are actually self-aware. For you math majors, that’s 500-750 leaders who have a good handle on their blindspots. So, imagining that you work in a company with 5000 people leaders, 4250-4500 leaders are patently unaware of their blindspots and doing nothing to correct them. What could possibly go wrong…

Which begs the question – why do leaders think so highly of themselves? The above article posits that as leaders climb the ladder, there are fewer powers-that-be giving them honest feedback, and, those who report into them are leery (and rightfully so) about giving them the straight goods, for fear of career-related reprisal.

So what can leaders do?

1. Ask for feedback from your colleagues, peers, superiors, etc. It costs nothing and has a huge upside. Open yourself up to hearing the truth, and you may find a new way forward that is good for you and the business. And, your people will feel heard. Of course asking for feedback requires a level of trust, especially where a power dynamic exists between employee and manager. Start with regular 1:1s with your employees to help lay that foundation.

2. Ask for help if you need it. Most employees don’t expect leaders to be superheroes; we are all human. And no one like a know-it-all (especially if they don’t actually know it all). In fact, you’re more likely to build trust if you seek out employee’s advice and demonstrate that you’re willing to leave your ego at the door.

To get started, ask for feedback from one person this week (ex. “what is one behaviour that may be holding me back? What should I stop/start/continue doing? If you were me, what would you change?”). Not a leader yet? Share this article around the office 😉

Be great,