It is my personal observation, compiled and tested over an extended period of time, that two traits are absolutely essential if you are going to be successful in business. You must possess a strong degree of personal awareness and you have to be willing to consistently hold yourself accountable to your own standard of excellence.
I define personal awareness as your knowledge of who you are and who you are not. You know your strengths and you have identified areas of improvement and you make decisions that put you in a position to highlight your strengths and test your development as a person. You know how to use your strengths to your advantage and you do not allow the areas that you need to develop hold you back.
I define self-accountability as your desire and ability to create your own standards, often loftier and more demanding than what you will encounter from anyone else, and to hold yourself to those standards on a consistent basis. While there is always someone else to answer to, you will always be more likely to meet the expectations of others if you have appropriately set the expectations you have of yourself first.
Clearly, the common thread in these traits is their relation to self. If you are able to effectively manage yourself, you will be much more likely to effectively manage others. If your personal house is in order, you will be much more likely to understand what you expect from those around you.
So how do these two traits directly tie to personal success in business? Let’s start with the importance of personal awareness. When you have it, you know when to talk and when to listen. You know when you need to lead and when you need to follow and you are comfortable in each role. Your comfort is derived from your confidence level and your confidence is derived from your knowledge of who you are.
When you know who you are, you naturally seek out situations that allow you to showcase your skills and you do so with confidence because you have taken the time to identify and perfect those skills. When this occurs, I see an employee who understands her value and a person who makes decisions that help to maximize that value.
When you know who you aren’t, you have one of two choices and both are acceptable in most circumstances. You can either set out to learn more about what you do not know or cannot currently do well or you can choose to accept that no one is great at everything and that sometimes an area where you lack knowledge or expertise creates an opportunity for collaboration with someone who may have that expertise, but lack some of the skills that you possess.
When I see an employee work hard to address a personal area of improvement, I respect her willingness to learn. I don’t see a weakness. I see somebody with a healthy perspective and if you have that you are someone with whom I can work, coach, counsel, and collaborate as the situation dictates.
When I see an employee reach out to someone who has more experience or stronger skills in a certain area, I respect her comfort level with herself. It takes a certain degree of self-assuredness to ask for someone else’s insight and to acknowledge that she may have more knowledge or experience. It also demonstrates that she is resourceful and can identify multiple ways to reach a desired result. Lastly, it shows me that she has placed an importance on achieving a particular goal that extends beyond her individual contribution.
Personal awareness also encompasses an appreciation of where you have come from, an understanding of where you are, and a clear idea of where you are heading.
If you are confident and comfortable in your own skin, adept at taking the point or getting in line, skillful and collaborative, and all the while moving forward; you are successful and you are going to be more successful as time goes on.
With regard to self-accountability, this quality is first and foremost an indicator of self-directed behavior. If you are making good decisions and challenging yourself to exceed the expectations of others by not only setting your own standards, but accepting all of the responsibility that ties to your actions; you are also someone that does not and will not require much management. You can effectively work autonomously because you are performing to a higher standard than the one I would set for you.
If you can work in a self-directed manner, it won’t be long before you become that “go-to” person that every business needs. Conversely, if you spend your time trying to simply make other people happy, you will be subject to a moving target that is highly reliant on the possessor of the expectation and his or her mood and environment.
A self-accountable person is valuable because of her ability to get the job done no matter who is asking or what the circumstances are. She is guided by the importance of the task at hand and she will not stop until that task is complete because she fully understands her responsibility and the consequences of not putting forth her best effort. For the most part, no one needs to tell a person who is self-accountable what she is doing well or not doing well because she already knows and she is already working on it.
A personally aware, self-accountable person is (or will be shortly) a centerpiece of any organization. These traits have very little to do with rank and you can practice behaviors and habits that will help you to develop these skills at any point in your career.
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This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.