How to define your skill set and avoid blind spots (from Adweek)

(article first published in Adweek 4.19.18)

The Johari window is a tool for getting at what we don’t know about ourselves: our blind spots. When I first learned about it in graduate school, I thought of blind spots as negative. Not knowing what others readily perceive about us seemed like a liability. But the longer I am an executive coach for women in leadership, the more I see how many women have blind spots about their positive traits.

The Johari window is a quadrant that looks like four panes in a window. One pane represents what you know about yourself and what other people know about you, the obvious and visible. The next pane is what you know about yourself that others typically don’t, the private. It might be your secret predilection for lengua tacos or your fangirl devotion to Roxane Gay. The third pane is where the blind spots live. This is where other people see things about us that we don’t know or understand about ourselves. The fourth pane is what is not known to you or others, the buried or unconscious. This could be a trigger that causes you to become emotional in certain situations that you don’t yet understand and others don’t know about.

The longer I am an executive coach for women in leadership, the more I see how many women have blind spots about their positive traits. I was speaking recently with a woman who was going for a promotion. She was clear about why she might not get the job, and we strategized about those potential objections. But while she accurately assessed the value of her experience and other accomplishments, she failed to factor in what was, to me, one of the main reasons she should get the job: her passion for and dedication to the organization. After years of being told she was too emotional and forthright in her speech, she began to believe the narrative that her passion was a liability rather than an important qualification for the role she sought.

Here are three things to consider to ensure you’re not missing out on what’s best about how you work and what you have to offer in the workplace.

Do you have a secret superpower?
When we have a specific talent that comes easily to us or one that we’ve developed over time, we can undervalue it, even if it’s a rare commodity. A superpower for financial management, allocating resources or managing vast quantities of data can be overlooked because it’s not flashy and obvious. When managers don’t understand some of these more technical areas, they can undervalue expertise, but these skills are incredibly valuable to an organization. What superpowers are you taking for granted?

Are there qualities you discount because they aren’t valued in women?
Women often list qualities like being passionate, direct and intense as weaknesses rather than strengths because they have been told that women who are emotional, determined and clear about what they want are difficult. Actually, those qualities make good leaders, but as women, we have freight around some of them because we’ve been told so many times that it’s not OK to be too anything.

Are you dismissing softer skills that are nonetheless critical to effective leadership?
When we list our strengths, do we include tenacity, listening skills, the ability to see both sides of an argument, the capacity to keep confidences? While most of us can list our understanding of certain technologies or how we have met specific goals, we often don’t count our emotional intelligence.

Try this. Write up the skills and qualities you might be underestimating based on the three questions above. Then run it by someone you trust who knows you well, your personal cheerleader who you turn to for positive reinforcement, whether that be a parent, sibling, partner or friend. Ask them what you’ve missed. Invite them to show you the positive blind spots you might have.

Turn your blind spots into superpowers, and go for that raise, promotion or new assignment with the confidence of someone who understands the full range of what they are bringing to the table.

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