In working with our clients we encourage them to consider the three key foundations of personal development – Attitude, Awareness and Action (which we call the Triple A Model). To maximise development one needs to focus on all three components and how they interlink.

In this short article we focus on developing Awareness, by which we mean awareness of one’s needs, thinking patterns and behaviours. Issues that are often raised in our conversations with clients include:

-What are my motivators and what do I want from my job (and life)?
-How might my behaviours affect the performance of my work colleagues?
-What aspects of my personality are holding me back and how might I overcome these?
-I feel confident in my technical skills but less so in my leadership skills. What do I need to do to enhance them?
-I get great feedback in working with clients but mixed reviews from staff … how can I close the gap?
-What techniques will work best for me in maintaining my resilience?

Techniques for helping answer some of these questions include:

Psychometrics

There are numerous psychometric tools that can help in developing our understanding of ourselves better. We often use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) with our clients, which helps in understanding preferences for our sources of energy, how we process information, factors that affect our decision making and how we organise ourselves. Another popular tool is the Insights analysis, based on the same underlying psychology as the MBTI, but presented in a different way. There is a plethora of other tools available to help deepen our understanding of our emotional intelligence, motivators etc. Maximum benefit is achieved from these tools if they used/referred to on a regular basis.

360 feedback

Obtaining feedback from colleagues is hugely valuable – hopefully you find out about your blind spots. There are some simple things you can do to make it as insightful a process as possible. Firstly, we need to be in the right mind-set for receiving feedback, treating it as a rich source for personal development rather than something to fear (in which case we can often reject valid feedback). Secondly, we need to ask both the right people and the right questions. If it’s part of an annual review we’d suggest you ask at least 6 people (ideally more), spread across the organisation and by seniority. Perhaps ask some clients as part of the process too. Make sure you ask people who will give you constructive feedback- not just mates who will say everything is fine. In terms of questions, ask for feedback as to what you might do to stretch yourself, become even more effective, or what’s needed to move up in the organisation. Often feedback is focussed on what you are doing now – helpful but not transformational.

For our clients wishing to develop their leadership skills we use a 360 leadership framework (developed by Kouzes & Posner) which asks for feedback relative to specific leadership behaviours.

Ideally we should seek feedback on an on-going basis. This needn’t (and shouldn’t) involve formally asking a whole bunch of people for feedback on every report you write or interaction you have – people just don’t have time for that. However, asking a few select people for feedback on an informal basis is manageable, will aid development on a continuous basis, and minimise the likelihood of surprises when the more formal review is undertaken.

Personal Reflection

Taking time out to reflect on how you performed at your last client meeting, presentation or team session is also worth doing. Like everything else though, it only works if we are disciplined at doing so on a regular basis. It needn’t be hugely time consuming though and over time can be helpful in developing your known strengths and weaknesses. Your unknown strengths and weaknesses (your blind spots) are best identified through 360 feedback as discussed above.

Deeper Insights

Sometimes we might just not ‘get’ the feedback, find it hard to do anything about it or we might succeed in changing our behaviours for a short time only to ‘revert to type’ after a while. If so, the following technique may help.

Spend time reflecting back on your life to see if you can spot any patterns in your emotions and behaviours. Be thorough, including schooldays, university/college time, your first job and thereafter. In doing so you might find some repeated patterns of thinking and reactions that either exacerbate certain unhelpful behaviours or lead you to avoid helpful ones. It may take time to do so, but you may find something that helps where other techniques have drawn a blank.

For example, I was working with a client (let’s call him Robert) who had enjoyed a successful career to date and who wanted to take a step up to Director level in the Finance research firm where he had been workingfor just over 3 years. Robert was finding the transition difficult to achieve. Feedback he obtained indicated that people felt that he was personally on the top of his game in terms of the quality of work he produced, but that his team’s output was more ‘average’ in terms of the insight and added value they provided. For Robert to move up there was a clear need for his team to up the ante. Robert recognised this but felt that he spent time with his team, encouraging them to do better and wasn’t sure why they weren’t responding.

We explored how he worked with others in his past, in the work environment but also in project work at university and school. Through that reflection a reasonably consistent pattern of thinking and behaviours became clear. Firstly, when faced with a technical challenge, Robert’s first instinct was to work it through in his head. In doing so Robert realised he would unwittingly distance himself from others around him; he had been told that he can be a bit aloof sometimes but he hadn’t realised what impact this had on people. Secondly, it became clear that Robert avoided conflict if at all possible, for fear of how he might react to criticism or rejection. This made him reluctant to be clear in his explanation of what people could improve upon – he did provide feedback but it didn’t always really get to the nub of the issue.

These thoughts and behaviours had become the ‘norm’ for Robert such that he was unable to see their impact when he reflected on one issue in isolation. It was only when he considered how he had reacted in a number of different situations over time that he could see the bigger picture. This allowed Robert to consciously provide more constructive, challenging feedback to his work colleagues, which over time helped increase the quality of his team’s output. In addition, by opening up his internal thought processes, others could accelerate their own learning and development. Being more self-aware, Robert knew that he was more likely to succeed in changing his behaviours if he made incremental changes over a period of time, rather than making wholesale change overnight. This approach was successful and after 18 months Robert secured the promotion to the job he wanted.

Author: Russell Borland