People are notoriously terrible at self-evaluation. We routinely judge ourselves as above average at just about everything despite the mathematical impossibility of everyone being above the mean. We're equally bad at judging who our friends truly are.
A little bit of confidence (or even overconfidence) can sometimes be a good thing, but at work it also pays to have an accurate understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as the image you project to others. How do you correct your own probably very rose tinted glasses when it comes to both these things?
Annual reviews and objective performance feedback already give all but the most clueless some sense of where they excel and where they need to improve when it comes to skills. But getting a handle on the intangibles - what people make of you as a person and a leader, what they say about you behind your back - can be trickier.
But leadership coach Kristi Hedges thinks she has a way to finally get a clear sense of how you're coming across. On the HBR blogs recently she offered a simple four-step process for leaders to get an accurate picture of the image they project. She calls it a "presence audit," but I warn you it's not for the faint of heart. Here it is, in brief:
Select five people. "Choose colleagues who see you repeatedly in relevant work situations: bosses, executives, direct reports, peers, or even former colleagues. Influential co-workers who have their ears to the ground make great sources. If they know you in more than one aspect of your work or life, even better," she instructs.
Ask for a face-to-face meeting. "Be clear that you'll keep whatever the person tells you confidential, which will encourage honesty, and that you'll be collecting feedback from several people to find themes, which lessens the burden for any one individual." Asking in person is far better than shooting off an email.
Ask two questions. When you get those five people in a room alone, ask them: "What's the general perception of me?" and "What could I do differently that would have the greatest impact on my success?" If the person starts talking about skills rather than your impression or style. Hedges suggests you clarify by adding, "I appreciate that feedback. May I go up a level now and ask about the general perception of me as a leader/colleague/person?"
Manage your reaction. It might be tough, but "resist the temptation to explain yourself, defend your actions, or reveal disappointment," urges Hedges. "The quality of your feedback will only be as good as your ability to remain comfortable while receiving it. Ask for details or examples if you need them."
Will these be the most comfortable conversations of your life? Probably not, but Hedges insists they're often extremely useful. "Many times clients have come back to me after completing this exercise and said, 'Why didn't anyone tell me this before? I can easily change that!'" she reports. Perhaps it could yield similarly valuable insights for you as well.