As leaders, we tend to overestimate our abilities and underestimate the amount of help we need in order to improve. It’s like looking in a mirror and not seeing yourself the way others see you. Wally Bock, in his post about a Development Dimensions International (DDI) study of front-line leaders, draws three major implications:
You can't trust your mirror. No more excuses. After reading this post you can't fall back on the "nobody ever told me I overestimated my abilities" excuse.
You must commit to the rigorous and discomforting process of getting the true picture of who you are and how you're doing. Seeking feedback must become a habit. Hearing the feedback and acting on it, hard as it is, must be part of your plan. You can get some help from Mary Jo Asmus' excellent post, "The Value of Knowing Exactly Who You Are."
You must commit to the difficult habit of getting better. As you grow and develop, that target will move as Marshall Goldsmith wrote in What Got You Here Won't Get You There.
The process for “getting a true picture of who you are” and for “getting better” is best facilitated by a coach. Bill Ryan, consultant to foundations and nonprofit organizations and research fellow at the Harvard University Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, in an interview with Ruth McCambridge, Editor-in-Chief of The Nonprofit Quarterly, describes coaching as helping an executive answer this question: “If my organization wants to get to Point X, what do I, as a leader, need to do to build on my strengths and manage my weaknesses to help it get there?” If a leader doesn’t want to ask this question or won’t act on the answer, that person is not a good candidate for coaching. If a leader is willing to learn and to change behavior, then that person will likely benefit from coaching. For video examples of how coaching can help leaders change their behavior see the Evelyn & Walter Haas Jr. Fund site.
Other modes of learning and change could also be beneficial to executives having a more realistic understanding of themselves. Carol Kauffman and Diane Coutu draw distinctions among consulting, coaching, and therapy. Based on a survey of coaches, Kauffman and Coutu created the following model to show the differences and commonalities.
I think the researchers should have included "counseling" in this model. Professional counselors help people deal with normal life development, such as career, family, and avocation, with the intent that people learn how to successfully manage these common life challenges. I would put “counseling” between coaching and therapy in the model. It overlaps with coaching in that counselors are “paid to ask the right questions” and counseling “tackles difficult issues at work and at home…focuses on individual behavioral change…explores subjective experience.” Counseling differs from therapy in that it tends to focus on the present, is short-term, and deals with normal life development problems.
Coaching differs from consulting, counseling, and therapy in that the focus is on each executive’s success in the work setting. Coaching is similar to these other professions (consulting, counseling, and therapy) in that they all rely heavily on skillful listening to clients (executive) and reflecting back what is heard and what is meant so that clients can achieve deeper self-understanding and learning. Then when they look in the mirror, they should see themselves, warts and all.