An exercise in self-awareness

Research and anecdotal evidence point to the importance of self-awareness for our personal and professional success. A recent example comes from a study of executives conducted by Green Peak Partners in collaboration with the School of Industrial and Labor Relations from Cornell University. The research team concluded that although self-awareness is generally not a priority in the search for leaders, it should actually be a top criterion, as it was the strongest predictor of overall executive success.

So how do we increase our self-awareness to leverage its benefits? We are naturally biased toward our own opinions and behaviours, which can make self-reflection a challenging undertaking. (See Robert Sutton’s detailed exploration of the obstacles to self-awareness here.)

Therefore, an effective strategy for overcoming our own bias is to seek information outside of ourselves. One exercise that can be used to great effect is the Reflected Best Self Exercise. This evidence-based tool is one of the most robust available and was born from research conducted at the University of Michigan. Here is how it works:

  1. Ask a cross-section of people who know you well to write a story about a time when they saw you at your best. These individuals should be friends, colleagues, and even family members. More diverse input will lead to better quality information, so make sure that you are engaging people from different parts of your life.
  2. Look for patterns – When you receive or listen to the stories, focus on identifying patterns in the narratives. By putting these patterns together, you can make a list of your top themes or ‘strengths’ that emerged and pull out key examples for each one.
  3. Build your ‘strengths profile’ – Now that you have gathered the commonalities amongst this information, you can write about who you are at your best. This can be an invaluable frame of reference in terms of setting yourself for success and recognizing when conditions may not be in your favour. Another equally powerful benefit of this exercise is the collection of stories that feature you at your best, which may be an especially powerful boost when going through a career transition or a period of disengagement at work.
  4. Actions speak louder than words – Don’t stop there. Build an action plan (and hold yourself accountable) for putting your strengths to work in your personal and professional life. The most powerful form of learning comes through the application of what you are developing.

Self-awareness is a highly desirable and elusive goal. The Reflected Best Self exercise can assist us making headway in this journey. Once you have identified your strengths, make sure that you find ways to put them to work to help you continue benefitting from the best of you.

I would love you hear your experience with this exercise. Feel free to share any modifications or ask any questions that arise and enjoy the process of getting to know your best self!