Advising and profiling leaders for the past 18 years, I’ve been lucky enough to learn a lot about what works, what doesn’t and why. As I have profiled these people, I have lived their journeys with them and while I’ve not bourn the scars or failure (nor shared in the rewards of success) in their entirety, I have assessed and predicted who would fail and who would succeed and worked hand in hand with leaders who have struggled and those who have flourished.
There are hundreds if not thousands of words of wisdom for people looking to succeed in life, particularly those aiming to reach the dizzy heights of leadership or aiming to make their entrepreneurial business a success. Many are helpful, most well-intentioned, but they can leave you wondering where to focus your efforts. If I had to pick one, what would it be? Without fail the most common attribute I’ve seen in exceptional leaders, entrepreneurs and trailblazers is good self-awareness which is deepened greatly through profiling and coaching.
Do you really know who you are? 95% of us think we do, but if that’s true, then why are we not surrounded by great leaders? Well, whilst Psychologist Tasha Eurich found most of us think that we’re self-aware, she also found that the reality is that only 10% to 15% actual know who we really are. Having good self-awareness isn’t as simple or straightforward as it sounds. It’s not a case of simply doing a personality test or going on a development course. Despite this, many of us are guilty of thinking that ‘we know ourselves’ better than we do because we’ve ticked that box. The fact that you are reading this likely means that while you are more curious about development than most, you may not be as conscious about yourself as you could be. To become more aware you need to, in effect, ‘profile’ yourself.
However, before you start, it’s important to understand what good self-awareness actually means. As much as it’s not about one training course, neither is it about continuous judgement and self-examination. It’s about knowing ourselves and then continually feeding that knowledge. Observing and being curious about our reaction to different situations: what makes us excited, what drains us, what energises us, what bores us, when, how, where? It’s also about how others perceive us, information which quickly gets out of date without frequent feedback. To be truly nimble in the world of leadership and entrepreneurship, we need to remain continually aware of our impact on the world and subtly adapt to different people and situations. This doesn’t mean losing authenticity or changing who we are. The core of our personality and values largely remain stable throughout life, but we have to balance remaining firmly anchored in what we represent, while flexing to the world around us.
What does ‘profiling yourself’ really mean? The reality of profiling is quite complex, but there are simpler steps you can take in order to really get under the skin of who you are. The most important aspect is reflecting. So, what exactly should you reflect on?
- Your story. This is about reflecting on and getting to know what psychologists refer to as your ‘personal narrative’; the framework from which you hang your personality and communicate who you are to the world. To get a better understanding of your own story, it’s important to reflect on the highs and lows of life and how they’ve impacted you. To listen to and understand the story you tell yourself and others. It may also mean revisiting blockers or re-writing how you frame negative experiences in order to free up your capacity to make use of your strengths. Having a greater awareness of your personal narrative will help you to make sense of who you are and to be more aware of the ‘internal chatter’ that guides you on a daily basis.
- What makes you, you? This may sound obvious, but it’s important to reflect on it in more depth in order to really get under the surface. What are your preferences, your values, what are the most core aspects of your personality? What are your core strengths, what makes your heart sing? Where do you thrive?
- Where you want to get to, what’s your purpose? The first part of this can be an awful lot easier than the second. Although knowing your purpose is the ultimate for both success and psychological health, it’s not an easy one to put your finger on. You do, however, need to know where you are headed in the short to medium term in order to sail your boat in the right direction and weather the storms of life. You also need to make sure that where you’re headed overall aligns with what is really true to who you are. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to perform and keep performing at a high level if you’re working against what is core to your make up.
- Your areas for development – In light of where you want to go and get help with overcoming them. You can’t go it alone, you need feedback from those around you in order to really help you understand what may be getting in your way, what you need to work on, what your blind spots are, how you can fill them by working with others and, importantly, what your impact is on those around you. You don’t exist in a vacuum and need to know how to use your strengths to mitigate your blind spots and how best to work with others who have complementary skill sets.
- Know your optimum – In order to remain at your best, you not only need to know and listen to yourself and your own needs but also to hear the feedback of others.
a. Remain in your stretch zone – once you have a greater handle on who you are and where you are headed, you need to keep listening to your body and your mind to ensure you remain in your stretch zone; growing but not taking yourself too far into what is known as the injury zone. By understanding this, you can listen to your body and mind to know when you can push yourself a bit harder and when it’s time to take a rest. As for physical health, going too far into your injury zone can damage your mental health and most certainly prevent you from operating at peak performance. Taking a rest or going at a slower pace can be the hardest part for those striving to reach the top of their game, but without knowing when to take a break and what best revives you personally, you risk burnout.
b. Enlist others’ help – both to identify when you may be slipping into your injury zone and to support you on your journey. Some of the leaders I work with for example ask the people who work closely around them to tell them when they seem tired or agitated. When any of us are in that state, we can find it hard to notice we need a break without someone else explicitly telling us. Your de-railers may encompass something different, the important thing is to work out what they are and share how they manifest with people you trust so they can help you to continue operating at your best. ‘Others help’ is also a critical resource in the form of networks – people who can listen to concerns, offer advice, present opportunities and share knowledge.
Keep checking in and reflecting – on yourself, on your goals and on your performance. Make space in your calendar to reflect, to think about what’s worked, what hasn’t and what you can do differently. Remember what’s relevant this week may be less relevant next. So be sure to find ways of keeping what you learn alive and committing to a continued journey of self-awareness in order to really take your performance to the optimum and ultimately to fulfil your potential.
Fiona Murden is Author of Defining You: How to profile yourself and unlock your full potential and winner of the Self Development category at the Business Book Awards 2019. Entries for The Business Book Awards 2020 open in June. Find out more at businessbookawards.co.uk