The Coach is In…
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates
Much of how well we do in life, and as a leader, comes from our self-awareness. Do we ‘know ourselves?’ Do we have a strong sense of who we are and our purpose? How close is how we see ourselves to how others see us? How well does our self-perception inform our self-expression (how we act in the world)?
I don’t know about you, but as I was forming my self-perception I went through a few versions of my ‘truth.’ It improved over time as I was encouraged to be more open with the information I took in. My experience is that self-perception is built over a long time. Each stage of growth brings about additional opportunity to reflect on who we are, and more importantly, who we are choosing to become. While there may be some patterns that are ‘normal’ based on what we ‘all’ go through growing up, the very important pieces are ours alone. Some embarrassing lessons that happen a little later in life can be very hard to swallow (i.e., my learning at age 36 that my sarcasm was not well received by others). This was important information for sure, and I was most appreciative of the person who took the risk to tell me. My theory is that as we ‘install’ more layers to our self-perception over time, it can become difficult to match our internal view with what others ‘see.’ What are the consequences?
It depends. Quick story. Someone close to me struggled as he grew up. As an adult he struggled to finish education he started, and later, lost a significant job. The downward spiral continued. When I had a chance to have a heart to heart with him, he shared with me some of his struggles. I asked him why he didn’t seek some help (counseling). His answer was stunning in its clarity. “I’m afraid I would see myself as others see me and I wouldn’t like myself.”
That view got in his way all his life. It hurt his ability to create and sustain relationships outside of his own family. There has always been sadness for me in recounting this story. How many of us intentionally ‘distort’ our own picture? Do we know we are distorting it, or over time do we not remember how we came to ‘see’ ourselves in a certain way? Is it also possible that we encountered some ‘trauma’ that took us off our path of understanding? I’m not certain how fine a line that is, nor how easily distinguishable. What I do know is that it is important.
Our self-perceptions are vital in how we read another’s reaction to us, to how we read situations and judge what the appropriate response needs to be, and how we ‘read the room’ with a group of people. Those perceptions inform so much of what we think of ourselves and how we interact in the world.
The truth about self-perception is that how we perceive ourselves will always be different from how others see us. The key is how ‘close’ we are in how we see ourselves. The closer our view matches the more likely we are to be able to navigate in the world with greater success.
As a reader of these posts, you know that I work a lot with people and their Emotional Intelligence. In addition to the assessment they take, there is a version where they can also invite peers, direct reports, their manager, and close friends and family to rate them on the same questions. This allows for a 360 view of how the person’s EI rating aligns with the raters they invited. It is one of the more graphic ways for a person to understand where gaps may exist.
The more common 360 is to have peers, manager, and direct reports evaluate you from a work perspective. Both types of 360’s can provide valuable information to help inform what you know about yourself. When I am part of this process or am talking with a client who has been through either process, I am curious as to whether their perspective comes from being open to the information or is there some defensiveness. Those that can find the ‘truth’ in the information appear more open to change. They also tend to demonstrate a self-perception that aligns more closely with others’ perception of them, allowing them to navigate the situations and people they face with a higher degree of success. It’s not an absolute or a rule, it is what I have observed.
Working on this post has allowed me to reflect on parts of my own journey, the journeys of those around me, and those people I have worked with. I believe that is the principal reason I have observed so much variation in what and how people come to ‘know’ themselves, or don’t.
The question that this reflecting raised for me is what your/mine/our intention is to know ourselves? It takes courage to know yourself. This is particularly true since for many of us there is a part of the journey that contains information that is difficult to hear. We all face pieces of ourselves that beg the question, “Is this something that I am motivated to work on?” Do we understand the parts of us that don’t work as well? Are we helpful with our children, family, and friends at providing feedback that is helpful and welcomed? There is an art to providing that type of feedback from a place of information and love. Yet, in our lives, how valuable it is to have people who are willing to come along side of us and provide us a window into ourselves? For me that information came from parents, mentors, bosses, friends, and other loved ones. The information was well received from that source of love and encouragement. I am most appreciative for the investment from those people that helped me ‘find my way.’ I hope your path has had and will have caring people along the way to help you find the best version of you.
To a better you…