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March 29, 2017

Know Yourself

In order to be as good as you can be at your job, you need to have an accurate understanding of your strengths, weaknesses and personality traits.

Know Yourself

Carla Miller

In order to be as good as you can be at your job, you need to have an accurate understanding of your strengths, weaknesses and personality traits.

Why self-awareness is important in leadership

If you know what your strengths are then you can choose roles that play to those strengths develop them further and sell yourself effectively at interviews. If you know your weaknesses then you can improve upon them and be careful not to select jobs that depend upon them. The more you know about yourself, the stronger the position you will be in.

When we think of strengths and weaknesses we often think about natural aptitudes (or lack thereof) such as numeracy, confidence, punctuality etc. but it is helpful to think more widely than that. They could also be around gaps in your knowledge or experience, how you work under pressure, what you bring to a meeting or how you treat other people. Your strengths can also include the things that you are passionate about and the energy you bring to a situation.

As a leader your strengths and weaknesses are magnified because people are looking to you for leadership, guidance and decisions. For example, if you are disorganised and last minute about everything, that is going to be hard for people who work for you. You'll be making them work late on pitches or documents, which could cause frustration, and if you're late or consistently cancel their 1:1 meetings with you then they will feel unvalued. Conversely if, for example, you are positive, even in times of disappointment then that sets the tone for others to follow and impacts upon the general energy and resilience of your team.

Gathering information about yourself

Many of us have a distorted view of ourselves, based on feedback we've received from people along the way and our own assumptions. Very often feedback is context specific and can often say more about the person giving the feedback than the person receiving it - so how do we uncover an accurate assessment of ourselves?

. Personality profiles - undertaking a widely-used personality profile assessment can give you some very valuable information about yourself and help you to understand more about you. Myers-Briggs is widely used, as is Insights. Both give you information on a number of different aspects of your personality and they provide a shared language for understanding tensions within and between teams.

. Strengths Finder 2.0 - this is a book and online test by Tom Rath that profiles 34 different strengths and helps you to identify your combination of strengths. It also gives tailored advice on how to develop yourself based on your particular profile.

. 360 degree feedback - consider requesting a 360 degree appraisal even if it is not widely used in your organisation. You have to have a thick skin but it can tell you what your team think of you and highlight how you are both helping them and potentially holding them back. You could also create your own 360 degree survey and ask people in your team what they feel your strengths and weaknesses as a leaders are or use staff surveys to gather feedback anonymously about the management team.

. Skills and knowledge audit - review job descriptions and person specifications for roles like yours and those you want to apply for in the future and map your skills, knowledge and experience against them.

. Coaching - an executive coach can hep you to uncover for yourself the areas where you excel and the areas you are struggling with. They can also help you to reflect on the best way to develop yourself - it is essentially training that is completely tailored to you and gives you tools you can use at work on a daily basis.

. Find a mentor - a mentor can help you to see your strengths and weaknesses in a broader context within the sector and can inspire you to develop new skills and knowledge.

. Map your successes and what they had in common and you will find the magic that you bring to a situation.

Should you be an all-rounder or focus on your strengths?

None of us likes having weaknesses but should we be trying to be good at everything or should we focus our attention on playing to our strengths? There are different schools of thought on this topic.

On the one hand, it isn't good to have glaring gaps in your knowledge, skills and experience as a leader. You may not have hands-on experience of certain income streams for example but you can always talk to peers, go on courses and read until you know the key things to look for and the main success factors. Equally it isn't really acceptable to claim that you're stuck with your more annoying habits such as being late or losing your temper. You are a professional and there are certain minimum standards that we all have to conform to, whether it comes naturally or takes huge effort.

But is being an all-rounder who is good at everything always the best option? If you are by nature an all-rounder then embrace that - it is a strength in itself. But many of us have more pronounced strengths and weaknesses and can only truly excel when we can build on and play to our strengths. There is an approach to career management called the Strengths Movement which says you should focus your work life on the things you're good at, and steer yourself away from the things you're bad at.

As leading career management thought leader Marcus Buckingham says, "You have development needs - areas where you need to grow, areas where you need to get better - but for you, as for all of us, you will learn the most, grow the most, and develop the most in your areas of greatest strength. Your strengths are your multiplier. Your strengths magnify you."

The most successful fundraising leaders fall into two camps. Some are genuinely great all-rounders and others know what they excel at and make sure that their role focuses on that. They also build a team around them that balances and challenges them. Often the secret to success is picking the organisation whose needs and culture really needs someone with your strengths.

Knowing what you need from your manager

The other benefit of knowing yourself is that you can be clear with your manager what you need from them in order to be able to perform well. Best communicated at interview rather than after a year in post, it can be really helpful to share with your manager how to get the best out of you. Whether it's praise, recognition, attention, freedom, autonomy, financial reward or status, if you understand what really motivates you then you are a step ahead of most people. And if your manager can't provide that then get creative with other ways to get what you need.

I asked Kath Abrahams, Director of Engagement & Fundraising at Diabetes UK what she learnt about knowing yourself and leadership.

"My first thought on that is there is obviously no single blueprint for being a leader. I think the most important thing is to be who you are. To be comfortable in your own skin, with all the shortcomings that that involves. To be comfortable in that space of thinking "I bring some things. I don't bring everything. Sometimes that will be the right thing for an organisation. Sometimes it won't be the right thing. That's fine". I think that helps me to be comfortable in a role that is full of ambiguity, and that has good days and bad days. That is full of successes and failures. To be able to say, this is the way that I'm going to lead people through that. That's the best I can do."

Further reading & resources

You can find out more about your strengths using Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath and more about why to focus on your strengths by reading Go Put Your Strengths To Work by Marcus Buckingham.

Personality profiles Myers-Briggs and Insights

About the author

Carla Miller is a coach, consultant and facilitator, who works with charities and companies to create growth and develop happy, high-performing teams.


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