Starting out in our careers, most of us hope to become experts – we pick a particular field and set our sights on becoming smarter than everyone else. But as we progress upwards in the organization, something begins to change. We discover that our skills and expertise aren’t the most important things. Instead what’s much more important are the approaches we use, the ways we interact with others, and our personal traits.

All being well, we learn this lesson before ‘The Meeting’ – that’s the one when you step into a room of 7 or 8 highly influential global heads for your 15 minutes of fame. In this relatively short window of time, it’s essential that you ‘sweat the asset’, showing yourself and your capabilities in the best possible light. There are only three possible outcomes: You can make a great impression, gaining powerful allies and career-building support, or you can make a terrible impression or (just as bad) a neutral impression, in which case you just might need to start looking for a new job.

Being well prepared requires personal awareness. Our upbringing has more impact on a daily basis in business than many of us care to admit. It’s the way we’re wired. Often we’re good at several things but rarely good at it all…and we certainly can’t force ourselves to like everything. Self-awareness guides us to accentuate what we’re good at, and what we like doing, versus disguising or delegating what we’re not good at, or especially what we don’t like.

After spending my early career being competitive, I had to change my approach in order to realize more value within diverse teams. For example, on discovering I’m at the extreme extrovert end of the Myers Briggs personality scale, I had to give careful thought to how I deal with extremely introverted colleagues. In team discussions, their input and opinions would be valuable but I had to adapt my leadership approach to ensure they got the airtime they deserved.

Similarly, when I find I’m not connecting with someone, I will look for ways to change my approach so that I can get the best out of them. And to help others along the same path of personal awareness, I will always try to give feedback to team members on how they have performed. This requires a conscious effort and an open mind, but it’s the best way I know to improve my leadership and ultimately my own career opportunities.

I’ll return to this as well as some closely related topics – emotional intelligence and personal brand – in future blogs. In the meantime, I’d be very interested to hear how personal awareness has helped you to build skills and advance your career.

Published: June 2017

Image: shutterstock