Who Knows You Better Than You?

Accountability Authenticity


Key Point: The biggest gift you can get in your career are people (coaches) who care deeply enough to give you an honest mirror. One type of coach focuses on performance. This person helps you perform better for the organization. You are shown ways to give more value as determined by the needs of the system you’re working in. Another coach is more of a personal development guide. This person helps you develop and achieve personal goals by helping you exploit your talents. The same individual rarely serves both these roles. Both development activities are important and while they are different, they are also normally related. The fact is most of us, based on science, just can’t do it alone. Other people are necessary to complete our self-understanding. We just don’t know ourselves well enough…As hard as we try. The research shows other people know us better than we do on our own. Read on to learn more.

In his book Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, psychologist Timothy Wilson summarizes decades of research on what he calls our “adaptive unconscious.” He shows us just how much of what we do during every moment of every day happens below our conscious awareness. This includes what we think, how we feel, the goals we pursue and the actions we take. Some of it we can notice if we engage in a little self-reflection, but much of it is not directly accessible to us at all. If you want all the fascinating science please read the book. The way our brain works is a blessing and sometimes a curse regarding deep self-awareness.

When we struggle, the data suggests that we most often blame ourselves based on our ability. Yup… Most of us think we just “don’t have it.” Yet research by scientists over the last 30 years confirms that natural ability is rarely the root cause of failure. And as Peter Senge reinforced in his iconic book The Fifth Discipline, cause and effect are not closely related in space and time. If we are going to really improve performance and develop ourselves, we need to find the true root cause. We need solid evidence about where we went wrong. Unfortunately, that’s the kind of evidence that usually doesn’t make it to our consciousness on its own. We need help getting the right answers.

Character Move:

  1. Don’t be so proud that you won’t seek help from both a performance and development coach. People who are experienced and/or trained to be legitimate coaches will help by asking the right questions and will put a mirror up to show behavior. This will help us discover what’s beneath the surface. Find your coaches! 
  2. Recognize that relying only on self-diagnosis is dangerous. It is likely that self-diagnosis, for just pure scientific reasons, is unreliable. A repeat of No.1 above: Get solid help to increase self-awareness and to build an action plan based on evidence that really addresses root cause and not just symptoms.
  3. Kick start the self-awareness using a more research driven analysis process, based on a Business Press e-book, Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. The author, Heidi Grant Halvorson, recently created the  9 Things Diagnostic. It’s a set of questions you can answer online and get immediate feedback (for free) that tells you which of the “9 Things” you need to work on, and which ones you have already mastered.
  4. However while No.3 above is based on good research and will help you evaluate against the “9 Things” model, it is only a stop over on the way to a more complete self-awareness journey. The mirror you get from caring, insightful coaches that help us get conscious self-understanding, completes this road trip.

Knowing ourselves more in The Triangle,



It’s or its? Too or to? Why it Matters to Your Career

Accountability Contribution Growth mindset


Key Point:

The following is a hilarious comment on the importance of grammar when getting a job by Kyle Wiens, as published in an HBR blog.

“If you think an apostrophe was one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, you will never work for me. If you think a semicolon is a regular colon with an identity crisis, I will not hire you. If you scatter commas into a sentence with all the discrimination of a shotgun, you might make it to the foyer before we politely escort you from the building.

Some might call my approach to grammar extreme, but I prefer Lynne Truss‘s more cuddly phraseology: I am a grammar “stickler.” And, like Truss — author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves — I have a “zero tolerance approach” to grammar mistakes that make people look stupid.

Now, Truss and I disagree on what it means to have “zero tolerance.” She thinks that people who mix up their itses, “deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave,” while I just think they deserve to be passed over for a job — even if they are otherwise qualified.”

How do you feel about using grammar as a screening filter for recruitment?

Have you heard some of the well-informed commentary by experts during the 2012 London Olympics? Whether swimming, gymnastics, or any event for that matter, people who really understand a sport can describe how executing, based on minute details, is most often the difference between gold and silver. Learning and practicing a skill based on putting together specific best practice details is the key to excellence in almost anything. This means we have to have a willingness to learn and a tenacity to really improve. Hence the argument that if someone hasn’t learned basic grammar and is not able to attend to detail in a resume, why would one assume they would be able to learn and attend to detail in a job? Is this too harsh? I’m not so sure. When you have experienced anything of extraordinary excellence, how much of it came down to an obsessive attention to detail?

Character Moves:

  1. How much of a stickler are you for details in your work?
  2. If you outlined the key processes of the elements in your role at work, what would be the differentiating details? How can you practice delivering and improving on them?
  3. Do you have the will power and tenacity to be excellent? Is being mediocre good enough? Perhaps your customers are just too fussy and demanding.
  4. Why not create your own personal Olympics? What are the specifics that would earn you a gold medal? Is it more important for you to be good or to constantly improve?

Details in the Triangle,


P.S. If you want to find out if you’re truly a “grammar geek,” take this quick quiz


Did You Do Your Best to…?

Accountability Growth mindset


Key Point: Let’s say you are on a flight and two flight attendants are serving you. One is full of amenity and joy, while the other is grumpy and treats you like you’re an imposition. Why? It’s essentially the same environment for both flight attendants. Or lets say you’re coaching two leaders. Using the same process with each, one excels and the other gives up. Why? Not surprisingly, the key difference is in the distinct approach of the individuals. There are two distinguishing characteristics that revolve around 1. Their mindsets, and 2. The questions they ask themselves to drive self-development.

1. Mindset is the discovery of world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck based on decades of research on achievement and success. It’s a simple idea that makes a huge difference. I have written about the importance of having a growth mindset before.

In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success, without effort. Dweck points out they’re wrong. A lot of Olympic athletes would confirm this assertion.

In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.

2. The questions you ask yourself are more powerful and influential in driving self-development when they are active versus passive. As an example, “did you do your best to be happy today?” is an active question. “Are you happy today?” is a passive question. When we ask ourselves and answer active questions, we are more likely to learn and self develop. When we ask passive questions we can get seduced into relying on the environment to improve as a condition for us improving. (I referred to this in a past blog about my experience having a drink with super management guru Marshall Goldsmith). He’s continuing to do important research to further assess the validity of this premise.

Character Move:

  1. Honestly examine how much you have a growth mindset. Go to MindSet to test it. Work to nourish that growth mindset.
  2. Ask yourself the following core questions everyday. Did I do my best to be happy today? Did I do my best to live my life with meaning today? Did I do my best to improve relationships today?
  3. Add some additional “did I do my best?” questions that are personally most meaningful to you.
  4. Take action based on the answers to your questions and stay true to asking and following up on the answers everyday.

An active growth mindset in The Triangle,