A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article highlighted a research study in the Journal of Clinical and Social Psychology, that most people think they are self-aware, but in fact, only 10-15% of people actually are.
That’s a pretty astonishing statistic.
It gets even worse for CEO’s and senior leaders. According to the HBR article “the more power a leader holds, the more likely they are to overestimate their skills and abilities. One study of more than 3,600 leaders across a variety of roles and industries found that, relative to lower-level leaders, higher-level leaders more significantly overvalued their skills (compared with others’ perceptions). In fact, this pattern existed for 19 out of the 20 competencies the researchers measured, including emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment, empathy, trustworthiness, and leadership performance”.
The article goes on to say, “Researchers have proposed two primary explanations for this phenomenon. First, by virtue of their level, senior leaders simply have fewer people above them who can provide candid feedback. Second, the more power a leader wields, the less comfortable people will be to give them constructive feedback, for fear it will hurt their careers”. Nobody wants to make a career limiting move like that!
Psychologist Tasha Eurich coined the phrase “CEO’s Disease,” which is when someone works their way up the corporate ladder and gets less self-aware because they receive less and less candid feedback.
If you are thinking to yourself, “I don’t have that issue, I’m self-aware and my people always give me candid feedback”, you should probably stop reading this article. If however, you are thinking “maybe I’m not getting the feedback I need and it’s possible I could be more self-aware”, then you are the type of leader who would benefit from reading on.
What can you do about it?
A natural reaction from someone truly reflective and open to increasing their self-awareness is to think: I’m going to have 1:1 meetings with all my direct reports (or worse, get them all in a room together) and ask them to give me feedback on how I am doing.
A symptom of CEO’s disease is that the higher up in an organization you are, the more risk people feel in providing honest feedback, so that approach is not likely to yield the results you need.
The next thing CEO’s sometimes do is ask their HR person for feedback about how people perceive them. Now you have the issue of triangulation and the potential for misrepresentation and miscommunication. Your HR leader may also be afraid to give you honest feedback, so that approach doesn’t work either.
There is only one approach that I’ve seen work in my 16 years coaching and training CEO’s and senior leasers (and being one myself): anonymous 360 feedback. While some people may still feel nervous giving anonymous feedback on 360’s because they think someone will hack in and see their feedback, I’ve seen enough 360’s as a coach to tell you that senior leaders definitely get very candid feedback this way.
There is no point trying to increase your self-awareness if the 360 focuses on things like strategy, delegation, process, etc. Self-Awareness is the fundamental underpinning of Emotional Intelligence, so you want to have an EI-based assessment.
Don’t do 360’s by themselves!
Receiving 360 feedback, especially when it’s focusing on EI competencies like Self-Awareness, Impulse Control, Authenticity, etc., can be an emotional experience. If you complete a 360, and you to review the results on your own, you are at risk to personalize and rationalize the feedback and try to figure out who said what. These are natural emotional reactions to receiving difficult feedback, but they are detrimental to increasing your self-awareness. You may end up do more damage than good this way.
The best approach is to receive 360 feedback is to be part of a training and coaching program. The training will provide you with context and support for interpreting your feedback. Even more importantly, Emotional Intelligence-based training will provide you with insights and strategies you can put into practice to improve on the feedback you get. Coaching is critical to providing personalized application and accountability to put new strategies and behaviors into practice.
The Power of Feedback
From my own experience as a leader (I do our EI360 assessment every two years) and from the training and coaching I’ve done myself with CEO’s and senior leaders, there is no better way to improve your self-awareness – and avoid CEO’s disease – than by getting anonymous feedback. It’s also critical that you get training and coaching that will help you make changes to improve and get better.
By doing this, you are modelling for your team. If you are getting feedback and working on your self-awareness, your team (and your entire organization) will be inspired to do the same.
Originally published in CEO Magazine – read it here
Publication date: June 15, 2018
One of the most important things a CEO must do is have skillful difficult conversations – holding people accountable, rolling out change people don’t like, pushing back with the board, and for those of you with teenagers, telling them “no” to something they really, REALLY, want. I’ve trained and coached many CEO’s, and these are 4 common mistakes that they (and I) make that will trigger other people defensive emotions when having a difficult conversation:
1. Not managing your own emotions and thinking first. If we go into any conversation and we are emotionally triggered or anxious, or we are focusing on the wrong thinking – or both – that spells doom for the conversation. From our work in Emotional Intelligence, we recommend that you take time before a difficult conversation to disconnect (i.e. not think about the conversation), breathe deeply for a few minutes (meditation is even better), then shift your thinking from all the things that could go wrong and focus on the reason and purpose for the conversation – or as we say in the next bullet point, focus on your positive intention for having the conversation.
2. Not clarifying a positive intention. Too often, we start a conversation and the other person isn’t clear why we are having the conversation. In the absence of that clarity, the emotional brain of the other person will assume it’s something negative. If you want to learn more about the brain science of emotions and why people amplify the negative, watch the second video here.
By stating a positive intention at the beginning of the conversation, you set the other person’s emotional brain at ease, so they can truly listen to the feedback. Examples could include “I am providing this feedback because I believe it will help you be an even better performer” or “I have news to share and I want to make sure you know how much I value you when this conversation is over”.
3. Starting with statements – or questions that sound like statements. The emotional brain is triggered by statements like “you did this” or “you should have done that” or even questions that sound like statements such as “what you were thinking?” or “did you not think about how this would impact others?”.
When we ask genuine non-judgmental questions, it engages the neo-cortex of the other person (the rational part of their brain), causing soothing of the emotional part of the brain, which allows them to process the feedback, news or opposing idea without being defensive or closed minded. Example questions could include “give me your perspective?”, “how you feel things went?” or “what’s this been like for you”.
The other advantage of asking non-judgmental questions is a lot of times people will own up to a mistake or something they did wrong without you even having to bring it up!
4. Not saying the Last 8%. When facing a challenging conversation, most leaders adequately cover the first 92% of what they want to cover. When they get to the more difficult part of the conversation – where the other person often starts reacting emotionally by shutting down, blaming, getting defensive, etc. – they avoid the last 8% of the conversation, which is the part that really needs to be said. What’s missed is the critical information and feedback an individual or organization needs to improve performance, grow and achieve objectives.
Before you start the conversation, be very clear with yourself about the Last 8% that you need to communicate, even if the other person doesn’t react well. You can’t control how another person reacts, but you can ensure you say what needs to be said.
Having skillful difficult conversations is one of the key differentiators of great CEO’s and world class organizations. While having them is not easy, it is a skill that can be learned and mastered, and is something we teach in our Three Conversations of Leadership training.
The ability to have effective difficult conversations isn’t just a skill that’s needed in business, it’s also a critical skill in our personal lives!
The good news is that if you can learn to manage the pressure you feel from all this change and disruption, and become open and agile with new technologies, it can become a competitive advantage—for your organization and your career.
Article Author: Bill Benjamin, Partner, The Institute for Health and Human Potential
Virtual learning, blended learning, on-demand learning, gamification, spaced learning, mobile apps, learning analytics, and virtual reality. The list goes on of new technologies and approaches to learning that we are all expected to know and suddenly become experts in (because we are so agile!). It’s enough to give a Learning and Development (L&D) professional a headache.
In fact, if you are not able to manage the pressure you feel from the disruption happening in the Learning and Development industry, along with all the usual pressure such as deadlines, difficult people, and endless meetings, this pressure can lead to all sorts of negative outcomes. These include poor decision-making, a lack of innovation, reduced efficiency, demotivated teams, less successful project outcomes, and even physical symptoms such as fatigue and tension headaches.
At the Institute for Health and Human Potential (IHHP), a company that has researched and developed training programs for the last 20 years, we’ve been able to focus on classroom training. But with the predominance of the Internet, phones, and our clients’ desire to provide training to people they can’t afford to fly into classrooms, we’ve taken on the challenge of disrupting our own company to move beyond the classroom into virtual learning.
The L&D field is facing the same kind of disruption. The good news is that if you can learn to manage the pressure you feel from all this change and disruption, and become open and agile with new technologies, it can become a competitive advantage—for your organization and your career.
If you are feeling the pressure to adopt virtual learning and new technologies, here are five brain-based strategies, taken from our book, “Performing Under Pressure,” that will enable you to be more agile and open to change:
Crisis vs. Opportunity. Your brain is wired to view anything new as a crisis. You might start thinking things like “I don’t have the knowledge to do this” or “I’m not good with technology.” When we start seeing the need for new approaches as a crisis, noradrenaline is released into our bloodstream, which reduces oxygen flow to our brain, making it harder to think clearly, process new information, and focus.
In our research and in our experience working with the military, business leaders, surgeons, and athletes, we’ve found that high performers can shift their thinking from seeing things as a crisis to instead look at pressure situations as challenges to overcome or even opportunities. This could sound like “I’ve learned new things before” or “Learning this new technology will be great for my resume.”
When we see pressure moments as opportunities, adrenaline is released into our bloodstream, improving the oxygen flow to our brain, allowing us to use our best cognitive ability and be more open and agile.
Downsize the Importance. Often, we overstate the importance of a situation: “This is the most important project I’ve ever had to deliver” or “It will be a disaster if I can’t learn this.” The more critical we appraise a situation, the more pressure it creates, leading to distorted thinking, errors, lack of focus, and less skillful behaviors. When you find yourself doing this, lessen the pressure by minimizing the significance of the situation. Think: “I want to deliver this new approach well, but there will be other opportunities if this one doesn’t work out perfectly.”
You Don’t Need to be Perfect. Unrealistically, people think they need to be perfect, over-perform, or have super-human abilities to succeed under pressure. They don’t. Instead, concentrate on doing your best and learning as much as you can in the process.
Recall You at Your Best. Science has shown that by visualizing your past successes in similar situations, you stimulate the same type of responses that helped you before. Research shows that the thoughts and behaviors associated with past experiences are imprinted on our brain. The more frequently these experiences are remembered, the more firmly implanted they become, and the more likely they are to resurface in a current experience.
As you are learning something new, think of a time when you successfully had to learn a new approach or new technology and how that felt. By implanting that in your brain, you will be more open to change.
Regulate Your Breathing. This may sound simple and obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often we let our breathing become irregular, leading up to (or in) a pressure situation. Anxiety speeds up your breathing, forcing you to breathe high up in your chest. By consciously slowing down your breathing and making sure you breathe from the diaphragm, you’ll be able to quickly calm yourself down and better leverage your best cognitive thinking and creativity.
By implementing these five brain-based strategies, you will set your brain up to be more agile, open to new ideas, and increase your creativity. These are critical cognitive abilities needed to be agile in the face of disruptive technologies and new ways of delivering training.