I once knew a small company CEO who controversially brought three former accountants onto his management team. “It’s accountant overload,” one employee complained. “And what does accounting have to do with marketing and client relationship management anyway?”
The new leaders had other expertise besides accounting, but that’s not my point. When I spoke to the CEO, I learned that he surrounded himself with financial prowess because he considered this to be his personal area of weakness. “I don’t have a strong accounting background, and yet finance plays a major role in every area of our business. Issues are inevitably going to come up that I need solid and informed advice handling, even if I can’t identify those issues yet,” he told me.
Over the last several years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several CEOs. The one thing they all have in common is self-awareness. People who have gotten to the level of chief executive officer, whether at a large or small organization, are there because they know they don’t have all the answers and are receptive to continuous learning and improvement. They know what they don’t know.
In order to reach the next level of success in your career, it’s worth making an effort to uncover what you don’t know and/or what you may not do as well compared to others. I guarantee there’s something even if your job appears to be going smoothly. Here are four ideas to get you started:
Inventory Sub-Optimal Situations
The best way to uncover knowledge gaps is to closely examine your current work and identify areas where you are not succeeding as much as you wish you were, as well as the negative or unproductive scenarios that keep cropping up over and over again. For instance, this year I observed that I was able to score a lot of introductory meetings with potential new clients, but that I rarely converted those meetings into actual business. I eventually chalked it up to a deficit in sales skills and sought immediate mentorship on the subject.
Take an Assessment
Many written and online surveys are available to help you identify both your strengths and weaknesses. BestUniversities.com has a nice roster of free tools. Because online surveys are not particularly reliable, I recommend taking several and trying to identify a pattern of similar results. Note that popular assessments like StrengthsFinder are not as useful in this capacity because they focus on capitalizing on your strengths and gloss over areas for improvement.
Ask Colleagues Anonymously
It’s important to regularly solicit 360 degree feedback on your performance even if you aren’t a manager. Devise specific questions like: “What is one thing I could do more effectively to make your job easier?” and “If I could take one professional development course this year, what do you think would be most helpful for me?” and survey everyone who has worked with you recently. Make sure that colleagues and reports know that they can respond anonymously, because all-positive feedback given under duress won’t do you any good. If you don’t have a tool to do this in-house, Rypple is a terrific option.
Work with a Coach
You can often learn a lot by talking with an objective third-party who is not personally invested in your work. Career coaches are wonderful at sizing up your situation and recommending growth opportunities. For a recommendation, either ask a trusted colleague, friend, or expert, or consult an organization like the International Coaching Federation. Select someone who makes you feel comfortable, but who will also challenge you.
If the acknowledgement of your imperfections makes you feel insecure, take heart. The first step to remedying any deficiency is to acknowledge it, and by admitting you don’t know what you don’t know, you’ve made a powerful proclamation about your future potential.
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