Strategic Self-Awareness

Today’s post is excerpted from the essay “Personality Theory and Positive Psychology” by Robert Hogan and Michael J. Benson.

The term “strategic self-awareness” is a favorite of Dr. Hogan, and one that’s used frequently around our office in regard to the over-arching goal of the assessment process. It stands to reason that if your goal is to get along and get ahead, especially in the workplace, it’s critical that you have a firm grasp on your strengths and weaknesses from a personality standpoint. So how do we go about becoming strategically self-aware? The following text provides a good overview of the process. It may also be the first psychological text to use the phrase “flicking boogers.”

The mainstream (and dominant) intrapsychic tradition of personality psychology defines self-knowledge in terms of becoming aware of thoughts and emotions (and strengths) that were formerly unconscious. This is sometimes popularly expressed as getting in touch with one’s emotions, strengths (or even one’s “inner child”). This definition of self-awareness is the cornerstone of traditional psychotherapy, and it would be difficult to overstate how influential it has been. In our view, it is also incorrect, and it takes the process of guided individual development in the wrong direction.

Socrates’ maxim was “know thyself;” he also famously maintained that the unexamined life is not worth living. However, Socrates and the ancient Greeks meant something very specific by self-knowledge. They were a practical people and they defined self-knowledge in terms of understanding the limits of one’s performance capabilities—i.e., knowing one’s strengths and shortcomings vis-?-vis one’s competitors in various activities. This is a sensible way to think about self-awareness; we refer to it as strategic self-awareness because it is information that can be used to shape and direct one’s career. There are two components of strategic self awareness: (1) understanding one’s limitations and strengths; and (2) and understanding how they compare with those of others. The second part is what distinguishes self-awareness from strategic self-awareness. We would like to note three points about this model of self-awareness.

First, strategic self-awareness cannot be gained in vacuo or through introspection. Strategic self-awareness depends on performance-based feedback using some sort of systematic assessment process. If people want to improve their golf games, they will consult a golf pro who asks them to hit some balls, perhaps video-tape their performance, then offers feedback. If they want to improve their tennis game, they will do the same thing. But what should they do if they want to improve their life (or career) games? They will need feedback on their habitual ways of dealing with other people—i.e., the interpersonal moves they typically employ in their efforts to both get along and get ahead.

Second, for career success, people need feedback in the five performance areas mentioned above: their talent level in various performance domains, the degree to which they can be coached, their ability to function as part of a team, their sportsmanship, and their ability to perform under pressure. For example, well developed multi-rater tools (360-degree feedback instruments) that contain evaluations from different perspectives can provide insight regarding current performance. The information can then be used to devise a plan to expand their capabilities (add new skills), expand their capacity (improve existing skills), or find ways to compensate for shortcomings.

Third, we believe feedback should be framed in terms of three categories as follows: (a) Keep doing—continue doing whatever a person is doing correctly; (b) Stop doing—eliminate troublesome or counterproductive performance characteristics (interrupting, cheating, lying, farting, flicking boogers, etc.); (c) Start doing—acquire new behaviors that will enhance their performance.