Are you self-aware?

“For this position, we must get an A player!” If you are in management, you have heard that sentence, or worse, have said it yourself! I know I have. And every time I hear it or say it, I cringe. At first glance, it seems as cliched or harmless a sentence you will ever hear, but that is exactly the problem with it. First, who, amongst us doesn’t want to hire the best candidate for a position? Do you interview for your openings with the intent of finding someone who is just good enough? Of course not. That is the harmless part…the part that I dislike most about that sentence is the underlying fallacy: we are so focused on hiring the best person that some times we forget the most important element of recruiting for a position: how does that person fit into the team you are creating?

At this point, I would be remiss as an executive if I didn’t bring in a sports analogy. Football season in US is a few weeks away – so, let’s go with that instead of my favorite – Baseball. Those of you familiar with American football are also familiar with the notion of draft every April – where the Pro teams get to select from the latest crop of college football players. It is, by far, the best way to build a team. Team executives work weeks, months prior to the draft date on their “draft board” – ranking all the players available. But what distinguishes a good draft from a bad one isn’t necessarily whether you managed to draft the best player available – it is whether you found the best player to fit the holes in your current team. Much of the attention on draft day is focused on some marquee offense players common sports fans recognize but teams that win on the draft day are typically those who draft defensive backs, tackles, linemen – very important ingredients of creating a championship team.

Creating a team at work is no different. There is no point in hiring the absolutely best programmer you can find if what you really needed was someone who is good at system architecture. It would be a mistake to hire a marketing manager with 15 years of experience in product positioning strategies when you really needed someone who was proficient at creating marketing literature based on product positioning you have already established. Simple – you would agree – but it is alarming how often hiring managers make the mistake of getting side-tracked during their recruiting.

Other side of the coin of recruiting is developing people from within for the right positions. This turns out to be a lot more difficult for most managers, and employees, alike. At the core of this challenge is one simple concept: “self-awareness”. How aware are you of your own strengths? What are you really good at versus what you might want but are not really best suited for? Most popular example for me comes from Sales. Most sales executives learn the hard way that your best sales people do not actually make the best sales managers. The issue is – if employee is not self-aware, is the manager good enough to make the employee aware of their strengths and weaknesses? I also find that there is no correlation whatsoever between years of experience and self-awareness – yeah, so don’t expect that just because you are more experienced you suddenly become more self-aware!

Once you are self-aware or made-aware, however, things do get much simpler for the employee and management. It is easier to match the positions to employee’s skills, to choose the right career track for them. From my perspective, it is very important to play to your strengths. Yes, you can work on your weaknesses but most corporations pay you for what you do well – exploit those strengths. This is where there is actually a direct relationship with years of experience. More years you have, more likely that your strengths are clearly established, and even more significantly, it is hard for you to work your way out of your weaknesses. Remember the old adage – older you get, more set in your ways you are likely to be! I know I am. Just part of being self-aware!

Creating productive teams isn’t easy – but as a manager, if you are self-aware of your needs precisely, and if your team is self-aware or you can help them be so, well, then you are golden!

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