By David Watterson
Self-awareness is important to success in anything that we do. This means being able to identify what are our resources upon which we can depend to be successful and what to watch out for where we are not as strong. However, as we evaluate what is good and not so good, we often forget to place this self-evaluation into context. Anything about us is neither good or bad until we say: “What am I doing?” “Where am I going?” “Is being tall good or bad?” Well, if you have some coordination to go along with your height, it might be good for playing basketball. However, it would not be good for being a jockey or riding on long international flights in coach. So, when we assess our strengths and weaknesses, it is very helpful to add some thought/comment to “in what context” am I considering playing/performing/behaving/thinking, etc. We too frequently assign a + or – to the characteristic without being more specific about the context.
I often like to use my hand to illustrate this phenomenon. You can take into consideration most anything, for instance, being imaginative can be your palm (front side). Having an active and robust imagination can be very productive for art, writing, designing, creating; but, the back of your hand would be negative in roles requiring concentration, precision, and consistent repetition of a thought, process, or motion. Precision machining or being an air traffic controller would not be a good role for someone with high imagination.
I like to think about this subject within three important frameworks. First, in leadership, being control-oriented (dominant) is typically an important aspect of being effective. This inclines someone to “take charge, lead and be decisive” in pursuit of a desired outcome. On the other hand, it may be a detractor when the role expectation is for someone to be a “team” player or on a committee of peers where there is the expectation for members to be cooperative and collaborative as equals. In the second scenario, being accommodating (back of the hand from dominant) is the more positive trait.
Second, a corollary to this two-sided phenomenon is the fact that more of a good thing may not be better. At some point, too much of it becomes a negative. Let’s stay with dominance. Some of it can be very helpful to direct a team to a positive outcome; however, being highly controlling (very authoritarian) may create resistance and animosity. Capable people often resist being told what to do. This over-control is often described as micro-managing. Also, some may stress when attempting to control events, people or processes outside of their control.
And third, it is important to consider that we tend to talk about strengths and weaknesses in absolutes, as we are either “strong” or “weak”. We are dominant or not. Life is rarely so definitive. It is very helpful to consider varying degrees of the trait, characteristic, e.g. very short; medium height; highly controlling; influential, etc.
- As a consistent component of learning, repeating a concept and then writing it down, speaking it, or teaching it to others assists us to move it into a more permanent part of our thinking (memory). Tell someone about this two-sided aspect to our thinking about ourselves. Pick some characteristic to describe. What are the advantages? Disadvantages?
- With some characteristic about yourself, (possibly one that you used in the above exercise), consider where you might fall on a scale from 1-10. What evidence do you have that this is an accurate estimate? How would others’ rate you on this characteristic? Ask a few trusted friends to rate you or comment on this. Where is this a strength? Where is it a limitation? How do you manage it in different situations?
- Now for some of the situations where you could benefit from a more of this or stronger skills with this characteristic, what learning would be helpful? For example, with our dimension of dominance, if you wanted to be more influential, persuasive or assertive, what would learning would help? One avenue would be to take a course on assertiveness, or you could look at some of the applied material on influencing from Robert B. Cialdini.