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Developing Self-Awareness and Creating Your Brand

Developing Self-Awareness and Creating Your Brand
Welcome, in this session, we’ll talk about two specific strategies you can use to build mutually supportive relationships. Developing your self awareness, and creating your personal brand. We’ll begin with developing self awareness. Self knowledge matters for many reasons. Knowing our values, helps us make some of the most important decisions we face in life. Who to love, where to live, where to work, and how to spend the limited number of days that we have here on earth. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses helps us make the most of our talents and work on improving our limitations. Knowing how we’re perceived by others helps us understand the consequences of our behaviors on others at work and at home.
Knowing our hot buttons, and how we act under pressure, helps us manage ourselves more effectively in stressful situations. Researchers at the global consulting and executive search firm Korn Ferry, have found that leaders who are self aware are more likely to be high performing to meet their business goals and save on turnover costs. The cost of a lack of self awareness can be high. In one study, researchers collected data on the performance of 300 leaders in 58 teams, who were participating in a business simulation in an executive program. They also collected data on how well the leaders’ self assessment of their personal contributions to their teams matched others’ perceptions of them.
The researchers found that when there is a large gap between the leader assessments and how others experienced them, the teams made worse decisions and had poorer coordination.
Unfortunately, self awareness seems to be in short supply in organizations. In a study of almost 7,000 professionals in almost 500 publicly traded companies, Korn Ferry researchers, David Zess and Dana Landes, found that nearly 80% of the professionals had at least one blind spot. Which the researchers define as a skill area that the leader perceives to be a strength, but others perceive as weakness. 40% of the professionals they studied, had at least one hidden strength, a skill area that a person perceives as a weakness but others see as a strength. And having hidden strengths matters because it’s hard to make the most out of a strength if you don’t know you have it.
Some of the biggest blind spots were in areas such as, making touch people calls, demonstrating personal flexibility, getting work done through others, being too narrow. Doesn’t inspire or build talent, and doesn’t relate well to others. When employees lack self awareness, it hurts the bottom line. Zess and Landes tracked the staff performance of the 486 Fortune 500 companies, over 30 months. They found that the companies that had the highest percentage of self aware employees consistently outperformed the companies that had the lowest percentage of self aware employees, on return on revenue and other measures of company performance. Benjamin Franklin once said, there are three things that are extremely hard, steel, a diamond, and how to know oneself.
That said, there are several things you can do to develop self awareness.
You can take self assessments, such as the Myers Briggs social styles, or DISC, to help you understand how you see the world, make decisions and interact with others. These types of assessments are useful, because they assume that we all have predictable and taken for granted ways of seeing the world, making decisions, and behaving in our everyday life. These assessments also assume that, if we can understand our preferred styles, and appreciate the preferred styles of others, we can see situations from a broader perspective, make better decisions and gain support from more people, than we could if we stayed stuck in our own world view.
You can find many free assessments online, including a free Keirsey Bates Assessment, which is similar to the Myers Briggs framework. Another effective way to increase your self awareness would be to get 360 feedback in which your boss, colleagues and direct reports all complete an assessment for you. You can then compare how you’re perceived by your boss or bosses, peers and direct reports and identify in which ways these groups see you similarly and differently. If your organization doesn’t offer you 360 feedback, you can take it upon yourself to ask others to give you the feedback. You can ask them what your three greatest strengths are, as well as your three greatest weaknesses.
And then compare their answers with your own perceptions of your strengths and your weaknesses. The point is, that developing self awareness is a critical life skill and it can be systematically developed with effort. Understanding your values, styles, strengths and weaknesses helps you be more appreciate of how you see and act in the world, as well as more appreciative of the many other ways of seeing and acting in the world. Self awareness can help you create a plan of action for leveraging your strengths and correcting your weaknesses that can hold you and others back from achieving important goals.
You may appreciate this quotation from Persian poet Rumi, who said, yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world, today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
Now, let’s turn to creating your personal brand. In the late 1990s, management guru and former Mackenzie consultant, Tom Peters, propelled the language of personal branding into the main stream business press when he published the article, The Brand Called You, in Fast Company magazine. Long before social media made it possible to craft an online presence through web pages, blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, Peters reminded people that we each have a brand based on other people’s perceptions of us, whether we like it or not. And we should take control over shaping how people perceive us. Today, there are over 300 books about personal branding listed on, all designed to help you create, package, and promote your personal brand.
In his article, Peters boldly stated, regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies, Me Inc. To be in business today, you’re most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called you. You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi or the Body Shop. His article, while controversial, was meant to be a wake up call for people who believed their work would speak for itself.
Keeping your nose to the grindstone and hoping people will notice your good work, may have worked when people stayed in jobs for many years, long enough for others to get to know them well. But by the late 1990s, this was becoming an increasingly risky strategy because layoffs were becoming more common, pensions were disappearing and lifetime employment was becoming a thing of the past. Quietly doing ones work and hoping someone would notice, no longer guaranteed job or financial security. Now, if proactively crafting your brand doesn’t appeal to you, keep in mind that you already have a brand whether you like it or not.
If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat or other social media sites, you’re already creating your brand by presenting yourself as you like to be seen. By choosing what to make public and what to keep private. But even without social media, the people you interact with are already making assumptions, true or not, about your interest, goals, knowledge, skill level, integrity and readiness to handle a promotion or a challenging career opportunity. For example, researcher Susan Fisk and her colleagues found that people are likely to make assumptions about your warmth. For example, your kindness, your friendliness, your helpfulness, and your trustworthiness, as well as your competence, for example, your intelligence, knowledge, and abilities, within the first few minutes, even seconds, of meeting you.
Given that people make assumptions about you within seconds, it’s worth considering whether you want to leave people’s impressions of you to chance, or whether you want to take some control over how you’re seen. Creating your personal brand is a way of clarifying your values, your aspirations, your character, your expertise, and how you add value. Your brand can be an anchor in a sea of change and opportunity. Your brand helps you understand which jobs bring out the best in you and which jobs are best filled by someone else. You don’t want to be the best kept secret in your organization or field, nor do you want to make people guess what you want or what your interest and strengths are.
It’s your responsibility to let people know where and how you can make your best contributions. And your brand, if it’s authentic as it should be, reflects the story of your life, your hope for your future, and the source of your strength. Listen to what Dartmouth professor Ella Bell has to say about authenticity. Although she’s speaking to a network of women, her lessons are useful for everyone.
As Professor Bell notes, our authentic come not only from understanding our strengths and our weaknesses, what she calls our good and bad, but also from our struggles, which she calls our ugly. Other researchers agree that every leader, and I’d say every person, has their crucibles. Their periods in life where they face intense, sometimes traumatic, often unexpected moments that test their strength, their resilience, and their values. It could be the death of a beloved friend or family member. It could be a particularly rough childhood. It could be an illness. It could be a bankruptcy. It could be escaping a war torn country, or it could be a period of extreme self doubt.
It could be anything that tests what we’re made of. It’s these traumatic periods that teach us important lessons about how to face the inevitable challenges of life. Our crucible moments can teach us wisdom, judgment, strength, and compassion. Although we may not explicitly discuss or present our crucible moments in our brands, an authentic brand reflects the hard earned lesson from these crucibles, and these lessons are how people connect to the most important parts of who we are and what we believe.
Whether you want to consider yourself a brand is, of course, your own decision. But one thing is certain, how you present yourself to others matters, because people’s perceptions of you will determine whether you have an opportunity to make your best contributions, add value to your organizations and reap the rewards of your efforts.
Your brand is a promise you present to others based on an honest assessment of your values, character, knowledge and expertise. To create your brand, Tom Peters recommends that you answer the following questions. What do I do that I’m most proud of? What do I do that adds remarkable distinguished, distinctive value? What do my colleagues and customers say is my greatest and clearest strength and most noteworthy personal characteristic? What I have done lately, this week, that added value to the organization? Do people view me as a dependable colleague and team member who is interested in the success of others? Are my skills difficult to copy? Is my work clearly aligned with the organization’s goals, strategies, and priorities?
And am I doing what it takes to make sure that my brand is not at risk of becoming out of date?
Clearly a thoughtfully crafted brand is not the same as style over substance. If there’s a gap between the brand you present and who you are, sooner or later people will recognize these inconsistencies between what you promised and what you deliver, and your brand will lose its power. Remember that your brand is build on what other people say about you, not just what you say about yourself. So now you know more about the importance of developing self awareness and creating your brand. In the next session, you’ll learn how to be an energizer. I’ll see you again soon.
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