Leveraging Self-Awareness

Mastering critical soft skills is a must for job success. Becoming aware of how you think, feel, and act will help guide your interactions in the workplace and enhance your potential in an organization.






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Publication: Strategic Finance
Author: Morgan, Mark
Date published: March 1, 2011

How is your 2011 career management plan progressing?

The first of our six-part series on career management appeared in the January issue. If you initiated an activity scorecard, you should be close to accumulating 1,000 points for the plan development and networking activity you have completed.

It's never too late to build a career management plan around the four pillars outlined in January: situational assessment, networking, personal branding, and skill excellence. An effective plan will help you optimize application of relational and technical skills within your current work environment and give you a solid foundation should circumstances require you to launch a job search.

This month, I'll focus on selfassessment elements of the skill excellence pillar by discussing the key components of the critical "soft skills" and introducing you to three best-practice instruments to guide your efforts.

Self-assessment requires an open mind and a commitment to explore cause-and-effect relationships between you and the work environment. Through this exploration, you can achieve a level of selfawareness that will improve the projection of your skill set, optimize the impact of your interactions, influence perception of your fit, and ultimately increase job success.

Three Dimensions of Self-Assessment

Self-assessment has three dimensions: your personality orientation, your inventory of strengths, and how well the company culture satisfies your interpersonal needs. Figure 1 shows how these work together. Like a three-legged stool, career success and job satisfaction are maximized when you achieve equal balance across these three dimensions.

There are numerous tools available to measure each of these dimensions. I'll focus on three instruments most commonly used in the corporate environment because they create a common language and base of data for input to your career management plan. Capitalizing on this knowledge will create degrees of separation from your peers and earn you opportunities for development and advancement.

Personality Orientation. The first dimension of self-assessment is to gain self-awareness for what drives your personality, group awareness for how your personality relates to others, and situational awareness for how to modify your behavior in order to optimize interactions.

Carl Jung has been credited as the founder of analytical psychology. The essence of Jung's findings published in the 1920s was that personality application is much more orderly and consistent than originally believed. Behavior is rooted in how we perceive and evaluate followed by how we react. Jung's work became the foundation that made behavioral analysis understandable and useful in people's lives.

During the 1940s, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, focused on Jung's work to understand how people could feel most comfortable fitting into the rapidly emerging and complex industrial workforce. In doing so,Myers-Briggs developed an instrument to define a personality "type indicator" around four dichotomies:World Orientation, Information, Decisions, and Structure.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ® (MBTI®) has become a widely accepted and valuable instrument used to learn the orientation and strengths of personality preferences that each of us takes into the work community. The instrument achieves systematic identification of an overall personality type through measuring response to a series of situational preferences. Understanding your orientation with the relative strengths and weaknesses is the foundation of self-awareness.

The World Orientation dichotomy measures your preference to focus on the outer world (Extroversion) or inner world (Introversion). Information measures your preference to accept basic information (Sensing) or need to interpret basic information (Intuition). When making decisions, do you prefer to look first at logic and consistency (Thinking) or look first for special circumstances (Feeling)? Structure measures your preference to focus on closure (Judging) or stay open to new information and options (Perceiving). The result is a matrix of 16 possible distinct personality types.

It's a reflex for each of us to push the strong parts of our personality forward when we're challenged. Frequently we can't understand how an interaction went sour when we relied so heavily on what we know to be our strength. But was our strength right for that situation?

The work of Myers-Briggs has been expanded beyond the identification of a personality type to include understanding the complementing and conflicting elements among the 16 possible types. A high percentage of people in business and education have completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator inventory, which provides a valuable database to help you to "know your audience." There's significant value in knowing the characteristics and recognizing the diversity among the personality types while understanding how the strengths of your personality type relate to others in the workplace. Being aware of relative strengths and limitations within your personality type will enable you to modify your approach and behavior to avoid conflict and manage the outcome.

Becoming self-aware, understanding the composition of the landscape, and exercising situational behavior modification will dramatically enhance your fit, impact, and satisfaction at work.

Strengths Inventory. The workplace is a collection of unique skill portfolios. No two people are exactly alike. Even those who share similar demographic and educational backgrounds possess a unique set of skills and strengths.

In the workplace, skills and strengths are synonymous with talent and are used to measure a person's performance and gauge an employee's potential. As companies conduct talent management, they are evaluating the alignment of the skills and strengths within the organization against current and projected talent requirements.

During 40 years of studying organizational behavior at both the individual and team levels, psychologist Donald Clifton identified 34 common talents within four overarching domains, or areas of basic needs (executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategy). As patterned and structured behavior is the essence of psychological study, Clifton cataloged the 34 talent themes into recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied in the workplace. The more dominant a theme is in a person, the greater the theme's impact on that person's behavior and performance.

Clifton's work was furthered in the 1990s by a team of scientists at Gallup who created an online assessment tool to identify a person's natural and dominant talents. The assessment is known as StrengthsFinder, and it's accompanied by a number of books to help further the understanding and application of the assessment.

The StrengthsFinder assessment tool identifies a person's five dominant talents. An inventory of 34 possible talent themes results in millions of possible combinations. Thus you may find others with some degree of similarity but unlikely anyone else with the exact same profile.

The value here comes from knowing your strengths, relating to the profile of others, identifying assignments and team situations where your strengths can be leveraged, and understanding how to exercise your strengths to best complement the four basic needs of those who lead the organization.

Relational Values. The third self-assessment dimension is to understand your orientation to interpersonal needs and relations. The purpose of the measurement isn't to classify any orientation as good or bad. The goal is to understand your needs, what drives your behavior in interpersonal relationships, and how to relate your orientation to others as well as the overall culture of your organization.

The FIRO-B (Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation) instrument measures across three areas of interpersonal need and two dimensions. The three areas of need are inclusion, control, and affection, and the two dimensions are how much each need is expressed or wanted by you.

Inclusion measures the importance of involvement, belonging, and recognition; control relates to the need for power, authority, and influence; and affection is tied to the extent closeness, sensitivity, and personal ties are important. The degree to which these needs are expressed indicates the extent to which you initiate the behavior, and the degree to which these needs are wanted indicates the extent to which you desire to receive the behavior from others.

This self-assessment dimension defines what drives satisfaction in relationships. The underlying value of this diagnostic is to understand that the work environment is essentially a daily continuum of relationship management where success and satisfaction on a personal level are enhanced when relational drivers and the common culture of the work environment are compatible.

Friction and "fit" issues arise when the satisfaction drivers and culture don't align.Misalignment is neither the fault of the individual nor the workplace. Each person brings his or her unique set of needs to the office each day, but not everyone plays together well in pursing their objectives.

Beware of companies that pass out laminated value and mission statements yet operate with a culture that contradicts what they promote. The quality of the work environment is determined by the integrity and consistency of the leadership, not the vanity of words under plastic. Awareness of your needs and quality of fit with the reality of the operating culture will enable you to modify your expectations, manage your approach, and ultimately decide if this is the company where you want to invest your relational energy.

Are You Ready?

Self-assessment requires a strong commitment to the evaluation and study necessary to achieve a level of self-awareness that can be leveraged to your developmental and situational advantage. Understanding the underlying principles and mastering delivery in the soft skills area will greatly define your presence and determine your potential in an organization.

Author affiliation:

Mark Morgan is a finance professional and founder of The Hypernicon Group, a management consulting firm assisting clients in achieving strategic, process, and organizational excellence. He is also a member of the IMA® Global Board of Directors and IMA's Eastern Connecticut Chapter. Please contact Mark at mark@thehygro.com with suggestions and comments.

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