At this time of year, many professionals will find themselves reflecting on the last 12 months. You might find yourself thinking over the goals you’ve strived for this year — the career wins, personal triumphs or the decisions that worked out.
At a professional level, you’re likely beginning some sort of annual process with employee feedback and reflecting on their performance. You might be tasked with reviewing the work of colleagues, providing candid feedback to a senior executive, or making a decision on pay rises in the New Year.
All of which is a great deal of work, requiring a blend of considered thought, diplomacy, emotional intelligence, and transparency. However, as challenging as that can be, it is relatively straightforward next to the challenge of professional self-reflection.
Whether formalised within a review system, or simply a part of the conversation you have with a direct manager, few people escape the need to look critically at themselves and answer questions about how they are doing. I say “escape” because there are also few people who can honestly say they find that kind of self-reflection easy to do.
Whether you’re leading a team or a whole company, even the most senior of us will have moments of struggle with reviewing ourselves. Usually this will skew one of two ways. Some will be overly-critical of their performance, seeing areas of development and improvement in nearly everything they have done.
Others will go the other way and be overly optimistic in their assessment of how professional decisions have played out, and how their approach to leadership has been received by reports.
Both tendencies have their negative consequences. People who underrate their own performance can undermine their own confidence and impact their competence to make solid business decisions. They can be left questioning the value of every small idea they have and curtail their own ability to act in accordance with their true leadership style and vision.
On the other hand, business leaders who are too quick to praise their own performance will likely be ignorant of ineffectual innovations they have imposed, and unaware of how their sub-par areas of performance are impacting the business as a whole.
In both situations, the ultimate result is that the individual leader and the company lose out. A talented leader is unable to perform at the level he could, and the business isn’t able to live out its mission to succeed. Clearly, self-reflection can be a challenge, but it is also vital.
One way to ease the process is to begin by understanding that reflecting on your leadership approach isn’t simply about personal advancement. Of course, it should be about helping a leader reach their own professional goals. But it should be set within the understanding that being effective as a leader comes from dispassionately investigating how successful you’ve been for the good of the entire company.
Then, stop looking at generalisations and overall impressions of your leadership, and instead start critically breaking down individual ideas and initiatives. If you started 2018 with an idea for a new product-line, don’t begin your assessment based only on what you know now of the performance of that product.
Instead, think about what your aims were for the innovation at the time — what was your target? How did the process run? What have you and the company learnt from the experience?
Thinking as much about intent as outcome is one way to take something positive from those initiatives that haven’t produced the results you hoped for. It produces learning opportunities, and provides additional experience to rely on for the decisions you’ll make early next year.
Thinking about the whole process of your initiatives also provides more context for those leaders who are inclined to praise their own performance. Seeing a failure along the way — perhaps a decision that took too long, or a situation handled badly — can show these leaders how they could, even in the face of an ultimate success, achieved even more.
It is always a challenge to review your own performance. You are always likely to be both your own worst critic and biggest fan.
But engaging with the process and making the effort to make self-reviews a success can be a worthwhile personal and organisational win for the New Year.
Ahmad Badr is CEO of Knowledge Group.