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Know What You Don't Know

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"Fifty-one percent of being smart is knowing what you are dumb about."

Ann Landers said that last century. Socrates said something similar many centuries ago: "First, know thyself."

Studies show a strong correlation between knowing yourself -- self-knowledge -- and success in life and work.

  • The best indicator of a high performance appraisal is being able to see yourself as others see you.
  • The best indicator of a low one is overrating your skills.

Know yourself. Know what:

  • You're good at.
  • You're average and bad at.
  • You're untested in.
  • You overdo or overuse.

If you know these things, you can compensate for them. Hire someone. Outsource the work. Delegate it. Ask for help. Don't know these things about yourself? That's a blind spot. And a blind spot is about the worst thing you can have. You'll venture into areas that should make you cautious and humble, and instead you could go in overly confident.

Disaster could loom.

Learning what you don't know about how others see you is one of the most important steps you can take in your career, regardless of your age or position. What can you do?

  1. Ask for feedback on an ongoing basis from a number of sources. Rely on feedback obtained from a confidential source, like an electronic 360-degree survey of peers, direct reports and bosses.
  2. Focus on competency results by comparing you relative to you, not you to everyone else. Your goal is to know yourself better. Ask: What surprises me in this feedback? Why might people say this about me? What experiences shaped my pattern of scores? What do I need to do differently?
  3. Work with a development partner who can objectively help you interpret your feedback and uncover your blind spots. Debrief efforts you make to behave differently in those areas where you discovered blind spots.

Knowing ourselves better is a lifelong process. I recently heard the story of two executives talking about a personality test they had just completed. It was one of those 30-item surveys that puts you in a box. "I'm red," explained the first executive. "What color are you?" Without missing a beat, the second executive replied, "I'm plaid."

Well, if you're plaid, what's important is knowing you're plaid!

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