Management is a journey and success on that journey necessitates continuous personal development which in turn requires you to face up to who you are – to acknowledge your strengths but also to highlight your shortcomings. In an influential article in Harvard Business Review (1) Peter Drucker wrote:
Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong. More often, people know what they are not good at – and even then more people are wrong than right. And yet, a person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weaknesses, let alone on something one cannot do at all.
Although I cover the topic frequently, self-awareness isn’t something you hear discussed all that widely amongst managers although in truth it should be top of any list of ‘must-haves’ and especially so in these challenging times. When you possess high levels of self-awareness this means that you can better identify what you are good at but also where your areas for improvement lie. As a result of that understanding of self, you are then more likely to try to minimise the impact of your weaknesses and indeed work to eradicate them over time. Unfortunately, the issue of self-awareness can seem a bit on the trivial side for some managers; a linked point here is that a willingness to open up about areas where you feel you struggle, or even reaching out for help with them, can be misinterpreted by some as a sign of weakness, when in reality such action should always be seen as a strength.
1. The Johari Window
Research, and indeed common sense, tells us that the best managers have what could be called a unique selling point; they know themselves well, understand their behaviour patterns and more importantly they take proactive steps to manage how they act and behave. It is this action-orientation towards personal improvement, based on their self-awareness, that sets them apart. A powerful and easy to understand tool that highlights the importance of feedback to building self-awareness in a management context is the Johari Window. (2) This model was developed by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955 whilst they were researching group dynamics at the University of California, Los Angeles. It has since become a widely respected and applied framework in a variety of scenarios, from supporting self-analysis to exploring human interactions in general, as well as being a helpful tool for understanding the impact of communication on relationships. The Johari Window can also make sense of just how different top managers really are when it comes to truly knowing what makes them tick; it is particularly beneficial in that regard because it translates what is clearly a complex area into relatively understandable terms.
The Johari Window, shown in the figure below, consists of four panes or quadrants based on the interaction of what is known/unknown to self and what is known/unknown to others. When you think about it, there are aspects of your personality that you are open about and other elements that you tend to keep to yourself; at the same time, there are things that others see in you that you may not be aware of. The resulting matrix can help to explain human interactions and communication in general, but in this case let’s explore it in the context of the importance of self-awareness for managers.
The four panes denote:
The Public Area, sometimes called the arena, or open area. This relates to information/feelings/behavior about yourself that you are fully aware of, and that others also know about you. You are comfortable with the fact that others are aware of these things.
The Blind Spot comprises information/feelings/behavior about yourself that others are aware of, but about which you are unaware.
The Hidden Area comprises information/feelings/behavior that you know about yourself, but which you keep from others for various reasons.
The Unknown Area comprises information/feelings/behavior which both you and others are unaware of. This is the most complex area and might at one level include unknown talents or abilities, but it could also entail repressed or subconscious issues.
One of the important underlying assumptions associated with the Johari Window is that, as the public area between you and another person or persons becomes proportionately larger, the potential for positive and valuable relationships increases. Also, since the model is dynamic in nature, the panes within your window may change in size as a result of expansion or contraction of knowledge between you and others. In particular, the public area may be enlarged in one of two ways: when you open up to others, in an appropriate manner of course, about personal information that was previously unknown to them about you, this has the effect of reducing the hidden area. Alternatively, when you take the initiative to learn more about how others view you (i.e. search for feedback) this has the effect of reducing what was unknown to you, thereby decreasing your blind spot.
When you do make concerted and regular efforts to actively gather constructive feedback, and if you are also comfortable with disclosing information about yourself to others, then the combination of those facts would mean that your Johari Window might shift to look something like that shown in the figure below.
The combined effect of your openness to feedback and willingness to disclose to others reduces both your blind spot and hidden area; you therefore have a larger public area. This in turn leads to you having high self-awareness which means that you are not unconsciously behaving in ways which have a negative impact on others. Over time, you build up a very clear picture of where your strengths and areas for improvement lie and, as emphasised, you do something with that knowledge.
However, if you are less interested in, or comfortable with feedback, or if you don’t have the same capacity to be open with others then your Johari Window might look something like that shown in Figure 3, below.
The consequences of having a small public area are twofold. First, your larger blind spot would mean that you lack self-awareness and simply do not recognise your failings, so your capacity for self-development is limited; and, as a consequence, you would likely continue to do the same things that cause you to under-perform [Hyphen needed?] across a number of dimensions. In other words, you keep blindly stumbling over the same obstacles time and time again because you do not learn from your mistakes. In addition, your larger hidden area, which results from an inability to really share and relate with others, would also mean that the relationships you forge were shallower and by nature less beneficial.
The Johari Window is undoubtedly more complex than summarised here, but this suffices for our purposes, and wherever you find yourself in terms of your current levels of self-awareness, recognise that there are a number of related forces at play which if not responded to can hold you back as a manager:
- On the one hand, employee expectations of their managers today are becoming increasingly more demanding and this trend is set to continue, recession or no recession; it’s only through knowing and developing yourself that you can keep pace with those demands.
- Linked to this, the better companies have recognised the tangible and proven benefits of having truly engaged employees and this places significant pressure on individual managers to genuinely connect with their people – and this partially means opening up to them and being willing to listen to their feedback.
- On the other hand, your superiors too are likely calling for better performance results from you all the time, so again you can only respond to that challenge if you continuously get better at what you do.
To respond to these drivers, the best managers appreciate the need for self-awareness as the foundation stone of personal development.
Arsene Wenger once memorably responded to Sir Alex Ferguson’s taunt back in 2002 that his team were the best in the league with the quip, “Everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home.” It took some of the tabloid journos a while to figure out what he meant but the message was fairly clear to me at least: None of us likes to think that someone else is ‘better off’ than we are. When it comes to personal performance replace ‘better off’ with more ‘skilful’, ‘intelligent’, ‘effective’ or indeed any work-related adjective and the message is still the same. We generally don’t want to see ourselves as second best, or as having limitations when compared to others. But until you take a deep and meaningful look at your own abilities and performance, you can never be sure how effective you really are.
Enjoy your day!
(1) Drucker, ‘Managing Oneself’ (2005) January Harvard Business Review.
(2) Luft, J. and Ingham, H. (1955) The Johari window, a graphic model of interpersonal awareness. Proceedings of the western training laboratory in group development. (Los Angeles: UCLA, Extension Office, 1955)