Regular self-analysis is critical to effective leadership

University of Michigan - Ross School of Business
Tags: business management

To facilitate excellent performance, a regular progress check-in is critical to ensuring one's success and the success of one's team. Yet leaders rarely know how they are doing beyond the daily rise and fall of stock prices. Leadership check-in tools are seldom used, and as a result, most leaders lack an objective measure of their own performance.

Kim Cameron, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) at the Ross School of Business contends that a leader should perform a self check-in at least once a year.

"Participating in a 360-degree review 10 years ago doesn't count as a leadership check-in," says Cameron, the William Russell Kelly Professor of Management and Organizations. "Business objectives change, along with roles and responsibilities, and team members. Without receiving input from the people you work with, it's easy to lose touch with where you are, what you are doing, and how your people think you are doing."

Self-analysis tools are a good method for checking in on your leadership, Cameron says. He suggests leaders complete the Reflected Best Self Exercise developed by his Ross School colleagues Bob Quinn, Jane Dutton, and Gretchen Spreitzer. The tool enables people to identify their unique strengths and talents through a relatively simple process: Each participant requests positive feedback from significant individuals in his or her life and then synthesizes it into a "best self" portrait, making it an excellent starting point for personal development.

"A string of criticism resonates longer than positive feedback and can lead managers to place more focus on covering flaws than on building strengths," says Cameron. "The Reflected Best Self Exercise empowers leaders to zero in on their strengths and play to them." Participants in the Ross School's Executive Education programs have the opportunity to complete this analysis; the tool also is available for purchase on the POS Web site.

Another common tool Cameron cites is the traditional 360-degree assessment offered by most organizations. In this case, feedback comes from all around an employee and is provided by subordinates, peers, and supervisors. It also includes a self-assessment and, in some cases, feedback from external sources such as customers and suppliers, or other interested stakeholders.

The results from 360-degree feedback are often used by the individual receiving the feedback to plan further training and development to improve their leadership style.

Cameron warns this method, although effective, focuses more on weaknesses than strengths, however. As a result, individuals may lose sight of its true intent. He urges leaders to consider supplementing 360-degree assessments with tools that also help identify strengths, such as the Reflected Best Self Exercise.

"Empirical data shows that building on strengths gets you much further than trying to improve on weaknesses, so look for opportunities to understand both, and use the knowledge to your advantage," Cameron says.

New Call-to-action