Self perception and reality are often miles apart. The result is what we might call self-deception. Author Jim Collins, in Good to Great, discusses the importance of a leader being willing to confront brutal reality and take stock of it as it actually is. Nowhere is this more difficult than when looking at ourselves!
There is a big trend in industry today to try and help executives address this very issue: 360 degree feedback. Basically, it involves getting input from people all around you, whether subordiates, supervisors, or peers. There are some merits to this approach, but there are also some dangers. While it could be eye-opening to find out how people really see us, it can also do irreperable damage to confidence. While much of the feedback is genuine and sincere, often times it can be cruel, vengenful, or political. Are those giving feedback truly being honest?
The merits of 360 degree feedback aside, it still remains that we must get a clear picture of things in order to make proper decisions. We must be clear about who we are, what we stand for, how we are coming across to people, and where we could improve. I would venture to say that none of us operate without some level of self-deception. But again, we have to be careful. I generally see two types of people out there. The first are quick to see their faults, realize they've got a long way to go, and operate with thin confidence as a result. They are quick to "beat themselves up" over failures or mistakes, and generally don't operate with boldness and daring. Then there is the other camp. This group is bold and forceful, and tends to think that most things they do are just fine. They are slow to see their weaknesses and therefore slow to fix them.
A great combination would be to find a way to live in the middle (you knew that was where I was going!) Somehow we must take stock of where we are, where we could improve, and see clearly our blindspots. At the same time, we must continue to grow in confidence and purpose. I believe that growing spiritually, keeping one's self on a continuous education program, and most of all, submitting to qualified mentorship are the answers to skating this middle ground. As a matter of fact, one of the projects my friend and co-author Orrin Woodward and I are working on next is an exposition on mentorship. It is truly one of the lost arts of leadership.
So get your spiritual life straightened out, get on a program of personal growth, and get a mentor. Make these inputs in your life as common as eating good food. We cannot afford to be self-deceived. While we may be okay with ignoring our weaknesses, not many others will!