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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

If you believe you excel at everything, think again

Thirteen months ago, you were promoted to a front-line manager role. You’ve been leading your business unit’s training, learning and talent management initiatives. You believe you’ve done an excellent job in most areas. However, in a recent performance review, certain blind spots and deficiencies were revealed.

Even if you do ask your team for feedback (but, honestly, how many managers do you know that actually do that?), you’re probably not going to get a one hundred percent truthful response. Even if you do ask and someone on your team provides what s/he considers constructive criticism, are you open to accepting a subordinate’s critique? You may subconsciously turn a blind eye to what you hear because, let’s face it, it’s not easy hearing what others think about your professional and managerial weaknesses.

There is a solution. When it comes to performance reviews and improving your skills and core competencies, how the feedback is provided versus what is actually said makes all the difference. A structured and formalized approach to performance evaluations – one that includes a 360-degree approach – i.e., honest and constructive feedback from your manager, peers and staff members – provides a holistic view of your accomplishments and areas for improvement.

Leaders are expected to create an environment where you are continuously improving and developing your skills outside of formal leadership development programs. Find one or two trusted colleagues to whom you can turn for outside perspective and advice. If you haven’t one already, seek out a mentor. It’s generally accepted conventional wisdom that people can achieve greater professional success with a mentor’s guidance. A mentor can help evaluate your career plans, options and achievements, and propel your career.

Interestingly, The Wall Street Journal reported the results of a Development Dimensions International survey (Sept. 2010). DDI found that, of the 10 areas in which managers rated their skill levels, only 50 and 36 percent of respondents, respectively, rated their communication and coaching skills as strengths. A remarkable finding considering that those traits in particular are crucial for leaders who are managing others. Additionally, a recent Right Management survey found that only 50 percent of employees rated their managers as competent or very competent.

It can be tough to acknowledge your weaknesses. However, no one is good at everything. Know and leverage your strengths. Don’t ignore improving in those areas where you excel. If certain skill-sets need beefing up, acknowledge and act on it. This also presents the opportunity to develop someone on your team who possesses stronger skills in the areas you are lacking. Offer that individual stretch assignments and greater responsibility. You’ll be creating a win-win solution: helping others develop complimentary skills will improve your and your overall team’s performance.

Self-awareness is key. You don’t need to be extraordinarily proficient in all areas. However, you do need to acknowledge your developmental needs. Be willing to collaborate with others to fill your gaps and enhance you team's strengths. This is what it means to lead.

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