A piece about second string, backup NFL quarterbacks doesn't immediately sound like a top-of-the-pile story for today's business leaders, does it? But with lots of injuries this fall to QB stars, suddenly the backups are offering something to talk about, and leaders, regardless of sector, should take note.
Ten NFL teams, a third of the league, are playing their second- and in some cases third-string talent. We'd expect the talk to be about lesser players and losses. For the most part however, it's been the opposite. Why? And--especially if you're not a football fan--why the heck should you even care? The answer to both questions is this: More than a handful of these assumed also-rans are succeeding where others expected them to fail because of one thing--one thing critical to success no matter who you are, what your job is, or what field of play you compete on: self-awareness.
The Most Powerful Tool for Defying Expectation
Go ahead and giggle. It's true, self-awareness isn't the first thing we expect to hear about when reviewing and ranking pro athletes. But in the growing science of performance--in sports, business, and more--self-awareness is getting serious notice as a key success factor. The NFL just happens to offer the latest evidence as to why.
More than half of the standby QBs are succeeding, and to a degree no one expected. While each is different, there's one common element to all of their success stories: They know they're not the person they replaced--and more, they're not trying to be. Instead, each seems to have a crystal-clear sense of what they themselves are good at, what they're not, and as--if not more--important, what those around them do well.
They're not just self-aware, they are self-aware in the context of the environment in which they are trying to succeed. With this knowledge, they consciously lean towards what works. Never mind that what works doesn't have the flashy playmaking of the star talents they're standing in for. The goal is to win football games, not make headlines. And these second-stringers are doing that while proving the power of being self-aware.
How this Game Plan Applies to You
Let's bring it back to you. Every day, you face overwhelming messaging that could cause you to lose this valuable lesson. Scan the headlines and you'll see a mountain of messages telling you that you'd better pay attention to what Musk, Bezos, or Winfrey are doing if you want to succeed. Or you're told to keep an eye on the latest trend or threat or you'll fall victim to it. No doubt we're taught that we ought to be aware. But the emphasis is disproportionately on the external. The reality is that none of those external things matter if individually you can't engage or lever them into something of value with what you personally have to work with. There's no substitute. You have to be self-aware.
Don't be fooled. This isn't some incense burning, legs-crossed lecture far removed from your day-to-day work life. Quite the contrary. It's about running a check on your success potential, a check you need to do right now and ongoing. Here's what to check and how.
Two Simple Steps to Unleash the Power of Self-awareness
1. Honoring What You're Not Good At.
It's human nature--when we do take a look at ourselves, we tend to start with the good stuff and either avoid or discount the power in what we're NOT good at. Rarely do we openly acknowledge the downsides. But ignoring your weaknesses puts a target on your back. Eventually, it limits you, depletes you, or seeds your undoing. We could argue about at what level this undoing occurs, but does that really matter? Big or small, you are voluntarily choosing to be lesser if you ignore what you're not good at.
While ignoring weaknesses is bad, avoiding them may be worse. Avoidance has all the downsides of ignoring, but you're amplifying them by being fully aware and then making a conscious choice to run away. That part you may already sense. But here's the killer about avoidance: You forgo the unheralded power in what you're not good at--tapping and teaming with others who are good at what you're not.
2. Looking at What You Do (or Did) Well in a Different Way.
Most of us are much better at seeing and emphasizing what we're good at--just not in the way we need to be. We tend to do our strengths self-assessments in isolation, failing to see what we're good at relative to the environment, the moment, or in relation to the other people around us.
A good way to remember this weakness and to take a different view is to remind yourself to "flip the telescope" every so often. Our default view is to make ourselves outsized and larger than we truly are in any set of circumstances where we are trying to succeed (akin to the magnified view we get when we look through a telescope the normal way). Flipping the telescope does the opposite. It makes us smaller relative to others and our surroundings, thereby amplifying the environment and those around us to see their abilities, needs, wants, and relation to ourselves.
There's a variation on this strength check, and that's to test whether you're focused on a strength that mattered in the past but matters far less here and now. It doesn't declare that strength worthless, it just makes clear its relative worth so we don't make the mistake of overplaying it in our hand.
Rather than the end-all-be-all, think of these two checks as your springboard towards self-awareness. Once you tune in, odds are you'll instinctively know where to go next. One final thought: Awareness isn't a calling-yourself-on-the-carpet, bad-report-card kind of moment. Far from it. It's a truth-to-power moment, as in, once you're truthfully aware, you immediately gain the power.