Three years ago, I had the opportunity to take part in a 360 evaluation. For those unfamiliar, you’re given the opportunity to evaluate yourself on 40 unique topics – You essentially take a test about yourself. From there, you invite 7-9 colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates to provide input about you based on the same 40 topics. It’s an amazing process because most people tend to underestimate themselves as a whole. Think about that. Most people tend to underestimate themselves when it comes to their strengths, abilities, work performance, management capabilities, connecting with colleagues, etc. … I assume that there is likely a connection between experience and how most people describe vulnerability and feelings of inadequacy. If you’ve ever seen Brene Brown’s TED Talk, the Power of Vulnerability, then you may be able to make sense of the connection. If not, give it a quick watch, it’s worth the time.
However, although we tend to underestimate our ability as a whole, there’s usually a category or two that each person seems to overestimate their own ability. It’s usually surprising, but most importantly it presents your opportunity for growth in a really clear way. The two categories I unknowingly struggled with was empathy and compassion.
The thought of that hit me right in the feels. It’s not uncommon for a person who really respects the process and engages in the behavior to feel a few emotions. At first I was a bit defensive, followed by a bit embarrassed, and ultimately I finally accepted this reality and knew I had to change it, but how?
Last year I was given an opportunity to engage my demons through a Peer Consultation using the adaptive leadership model. For those unfamiliar, the adaptive leadership model was developed by a couple of faculty at the Kennedy School at Harvard. The key to it all is determining the difference between technical problems and adaptive challenges. An example might be ‘wanting to lose weight.’ The technical solution is eating healthy and exercise. The adaptive challenge is making the lifestyle change to allow for consistent diet and exercise. An adaptive challenge is tough because it usually requires a change in behavior, beliefs, or how you view the world. They’re deep and messy challenges.
The peer consultation program was developed by the Cambridge Leadership Institute to explore adaptive challenges. I was fortunate to go through the process among a group of 5 strangers. It’s a 30 minute process per person using a series of timed events. At one point the presenter is required to turn their back to the group and spend 15 minutes just listening. Not to say a word, make any faces, just listen. It’s through that process that the groupmates both discuss opportunities for you to reconcile your adaptive challenge, but, more importantly, unearth multiple interpretations. The process has a way of really forcing you to face your challenge without the ability of being defensive. It really makes you think in a way that is unnatural and many haven’t experienced before.
This past year, I’ve attempted to really digest that experience and consider the advice from my groupmates. In reflection, I’ve noticed that my deliberate efforts to understand emotion and empathy have lead me on a journey of understanding and listening. The best I can explain it is I now try to “feel” a conversation I have with someone. This behavior in conversation has seemingly become more and more natural. Prior to having this experience, or unearthing my own insecurities I wasn’t aware this was a problem. Through this process, I’ve become more human. My relationship with the world has changed, and as a result, my worldview. I’ve found myself resistant to jumping to conclusions, making acquisitions, or angering easily in conversations. This change in behavior resulted in a more serene 2016 altogether.
My advice to someone interested in pursuing a New Year’s Resolution in 2017 to consider this process. Do you have an answer to the age old interview question, “What is your weakness?” And, do you have an answer. Not a 2-minute, made-for-TV Hallmark answer but an authentic understanding of your own adaptive challenges. If you were to set out on an introspective journey to solve that problem, what might that process look like? How might your change in behavior impact your worldview? It will take your entire 2017 and then some, but I am believe it will pave the way for a more enlightening 2018. Best of luck!