Know Thyself: Career Advice for the Clueless

Lack of self-awareness prevents multitudes of people from advancing in their careers. The conundrum they face is that they're too enamored with their egos to realize that they're the ones holding themselves back.

Lately I've been struck by the number of people who seem to lack any and all self-awareness. These are people who clearly have no idea how they come across when they interact with the world. 

How do they come across? Rather unpleasantly, to put it mildly. The individuals I know who lack self-awareness are just plain obnoxious. They're condescending. They think they know everything. They pontificate and talk over others. They're not interested in anything anyone else has to say. 

I find this lack of self-awareness absolutely stupefying, probably because I sit at the opposite end of the self-awareness spectrum: I am self-aware to the point of paralysis. It's amazing I even finished writing this blog entry.  

Taking a cue from the blissfully ego-centric, I've been doing some pontificating of my own. I've been thinking about how a lack of self-awareness can inhibit career success. If you're not aware of how you come across to others, you can't perform well in a job interview; you probably don't conduct yourself professionally; and the tone of your emails likely annoys or angers your recipients. All of which limits your career advancement. Worse yet, it can even lead to job loss. I've seen it happen. 

Conversely, a healthy dose of self-awareness can lead to career advancement. Scott Williams, a management professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, wrote about the importance of self-awareness as a leadership competency in his Leader Letter e-newsletter: "Self-awareness helps managers identify gaps in their management skills… self-awareness also helps managers find situations in which they will be most effective, assists with intuitive decision making, and aids stress management and motivation of oneself and others." 

The Catch-22 in which people who lack self-awareness get caught is that they'll never understand why they're not getting ahead in their careers--that their attitude is the problem. Instead, they blame their bosses and co-workers for holding them back. So what can they do? Is there any hope for them? 

The following questions, many of which were inspired by leadership development consultant Guy Farmer's blog, will help you determine whether or not you lack self-awareness: 

  1. Do people frequently get annoyed or upset with you, but you don't understand why? 
  2. Do you get upset or defensive when people question or criticize your work? 
  3. Do you tend to blame problems on others? 
  4. Do you find it difficult to praise other people's work? 
  5. Do you make decisions based exclusively on your own perspective and needs? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, it's probably time for some introspection. Williams writes in his LeaderLetter that we can develop self-awareness by seeking honest feedback, taking self-assessments and working with a therapist or executive coach. 

For more information on self-awareness as a leadership competency, see Self Awareness and the Effective Leader from Inc.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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