Skip to main content

The Need for Executive Self-Assessment

The Need for Executive Self-Assessment

Increasingly, companies are requiring their high-potential execs, the ones tabbed for stardom, to learn more about themselves.

Daniel Goleman, author of the highly acclaimed Working with Emotional Intelligence, has identified 25 essential components of "EQ," which he says can account for up to 90 percent of career success. Robert Cooper and Ayman Sawaf described 21 key personal qualities in their book Executive EQ. And Personnel Decisions, the Minneapolis firm that publishes Profilor, one of the leading 360-degree managerial assessment tools, has built its instrument around nine essential skills that it says separate the winners from the also-rans in executive life.

What is the common thread among these three different sources? Taking active steps to uncover your blind spots and skill gaps, and being willing to do something about them.

Case Study in Blind Spots

A case in point is Ted, a smart, tough, "company man" CFO. Ted demonstrated an inordinate supply of good ideas about how to make things run more efficiently when he was hired. A former Navy commander, he came early, stayed late and thought incessantly about "plugging the leaks" wherever he found them.

And, boy, was he good at finding them. The only problem was, he seemed to enjoy the fact that he had offended nearly everyone in the company within a few short months of his arrival. "I'm here to make these people get the lead out," he said on more than one occasion. "What they think of me is irrelevant."

If only that were so. The animosity Ted engendered in others soon meant that he couldn't get all the information he needed to make decisions. No one was willing to collaborate or partner with him on important projects, morale and productivity in the organization plummeted, and several of the high-potential colleagues who had to deal with him chose to leave, even though they were not particularly his targets.

As Ogilvy and Mather CEO Shelley Lazarus observed, "The name of the game is talent. You find ways to keep it and grow it, or you lose." So within a year Ted was history, left to wander off and look for another battleship to fix.

Executive Tightrope

It's largely the Teds of organizational life who have made the need for training in emotional intelligence so essential for 21st-century executives. Ted didn't have a clue about his elephantine blind spots -- his incredible self-absorption, inability to listen, failure to pick up on others' cues and obliviousness to his own emotional drivers.

Three factors -- going global, the emergence of diversity as a business issue, and the need to keep both internal and external customers satisfied -- have combined to create a business environment somewhat akin to walking on eggshells. Today, executives are dogged by the constant likelihood of misreading, disappointing or offending someone whose business is critical for them. In a world where leaders must be able to pick up easily on nuances of preferences and needs among colleagues and customers alike, flat-footed execs like Ted can do massive damage in a very short time.

Ask the Hard Questions

So how do you know how much Ted you might be carrying inside you? Dare to pose the following two questions to one person you know is on your side and whom you trust to be honest with you:

  • What blind spots and/or skill gaps do you think I might have?
  • How easy is it for people to tell me what's really going on?

Take notes, and don't react immediately to what you hear. This kind of information is undeniably a career-saving gift, but it's hard to hear the first time. You may need to put some salve on your bruised ego for a few days. Take at least a week to reread your notes and think about what this information means for you. Then it will be time to take action.

Mort Meyerson, who has had stints as CEO of both EDS and Perot Systems, observed in talking about his own career challenges, "My first job as a leader was to create a new understanding of myself."

How about you? If you work in an organization in which a formal 360-degree program is available, you're in luck. You'll have an opportunity to seek more of this kind of information in an organized way, and you'll have customized coaching sessions on how to put it to good use.

If such a program is not an option, find another feedback and training mechanism. Two possible avenues are through your HR department (most keep lists of executive training seminars and executive coaches with good reputations) or through word-of-mouth among other executives.

Discovering your weaknesses can be an unnerving experience, especially if you think your management style works pretty well for you. But if you want to make it to the next level, you need to work on all the skills that are important to top executives. Getting to know yourself will pay off immediately and down the road as your career progresses.

Back to top