Beware the Self-Assessment Trap As a senior citizen was driving down a divided highway his car phone rang. When he answered the phone his wife’s urgent voice came through the speaker system warning him, “Herman, Herman! It’s all over the news that a car’s been driving for miles on the expressway going the wrong way. Please be on the lookout for it!”

“One car?” said Herman, “There’s dozens of them!”

Self-awareness has long been recognized as key to personal growth and leadership development. Over the past decade research on emotional intelligence, positive psychology, and strengths-based leadership shows that self-awareness is the foundation for self-development. This has led to the development of highly validated tools like the VIA Institute on Character strengths survey or Gallup’s StrengthsFinder.

These are useful tools in our ongoing journey to “know thyself.” Self-assessments help us clarify our values, find our passions, and follow our inner voice toward what feels like our true character. This brings us closer to living authentically — the author of our life story.

The outer part of life is also vital to our effectiveness and well-being. It’s certainly critical to connecting, influencing, and leading others. Knowing the perceptions of others then becomes key to leadership effectiveness. As the Greek sage and philosopher, Epictetus, observed, “what concerns me is not the way things are, but rather the way people think things are.”

In “The Singular Secret for a Leader’s Success: Self-Awareness” Jack Zenger writes, “the most important element of self-awareness, especially for those who lead organizations, is a clear understanding of the impact they are having on the people around them.” He goes on to show Zenger Folkman’s research that self-perceptions of effectiveness are only half as accurate in predicting leadership results (like employee engagement/retention, customer satisfaction, safety, quality, sales, or profitability) as others’ perceptions of our effectiveness.

Some leaders vastly overrate their leadership effectiveness and confuse their self-assessed intentions, values, or inner character with how they’re perceived by direct reports, peers, their manager, and others. Other leaders underrate their leadership strengths as seen by others and undervalue or under develop what could really leverage and increase their effectiveness.

A strengths-based 360 assessment avoids the self-assessment trap — and keeps leaders from dangerously driving against traffic.

Further Reading:

• “11 Components of a Best in Class 360
• “You Are Here: Multiple Feedback Points Locate our Leadership Skills
• “360 Feedback Tools Can Help or Hurt Leadership Development
• “Warning Signs: How Vulnerable is Your Career?