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Self-knowledge — and then what?

5 min read


Perhaps you are one of those leaders who works hard to be the best that you can be. You read, you think, you dream, you learn with gusto. You want to find ways to continually improve.

Most of you also enjoy learning more about yourselves, peeking behind the curtain of your external self to see what’s inside. In the business world, we often use self-assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the DiSC (those self-assessments where you are the only person taking the assessment) to help us to be clear about who we are and to act in a way consistent with that.

The reports that come from these assessments are “all about you,” so most people find them interesting. So besides being interesting, there must be a way to make the knowledge gleaned from these assessments useful, too. How do you take action on what you’ve learned?

After you take your assessment, you get plenty of information in the report you receive or from the consultant you work with. You might have a conversation or two with a colleague or your significant other about the results. You may also focus in on things you’d like to improve in the way you lead.

Then, you file the report away. It was interesting, maybe even accurate, but you’ve been drawn back into the hustle of everyday work and life. You may just lack the energy, accountability or skills to know how to proceed. Should you decide that you want to move ahead and do something with what you’ve learned, here are some ways to do that:

Set a goal: Somewhere in that self-assessment report is information you can actually use to set goals. Go through your report in depth and take some notes or highlight things that you think are true (or not) about you and that might form a basis for improving your leadership. These can be personal strengths, gaps (some call them “weaknesses”) or cautionary things to pay attention to. Find a trusted colleague, coach or friend to talk to and ask if they notice these things in you. Then find one or two items that you are really passionate about improving and declare your goal(s) for self improvement.

Create an action plan: What gets written down gets done. Many fail at achieving goals because they don’t have a plan to reach them. You need a strategic plan for your own improvement. Write it down, including the action steps you’ll take, when you’ll take them and how you’ll measure results. Yes, you can do all of these things with self-improvement goals if you are a little creative, determined and/or engage others to help you come up with ideas.

Find a way to stay accountable: Who can help you to stick to your goals? It’s all too easy to write a plan and file it away. Find a trusted adviser — a mentor, boss or coach who is willing to be tough enough to call you out when you slip and will hold you accountable, however long it takes to reach your goals. Set up regular meetings and be prepared to speak to your progress.

Measure progress and results: Understand that most measures of your progress and results may be a little “softer” than using hard data as you’re used to doing. Although there may be a return on investment measure (such as increased sales) available, most measures include some kind of feedback from stakeholders. Let them know what you are working on and that you may request feedback from time to time; when you do, ask specific questions related to your goals and action steps such as, “Do you observe me being more inclusive than I was three months ago?”

Keep it up: Whatever your action steps, consider them “practice,” and keep practicing, just like you would if you were learning to play an instrument or run a marathon. Trusting your instincts and the feedback you receive from others, you can tweak your practice to suit you. You want your actions to feel natural and comfortable to you. Recognize that there will be ups and downs as you practice, but the goal is to have them become sustainable.

So often, the results of self-assessments are just “interesting.” However, they can become more useful to you as a means for improving your leadership. Unfortunately, leadership improvement goals are often abandoned because we aren’t deliberate enough in attaining them. It takes a plan, others to help you, measures of progress and a lot of determination.

Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 11 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.