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Self-awareness is a manager’s best friend.

Victor Lipman is a management trainer and author. His online courses on Udemy include “How to Manage Difficult Employees” and his book is “The Type B Manager.” He has more than 20 years of Fortune 500 management experience. He contributes regularly to Forbes and Psychology Today, and his work has appeared in Harvard Business Review.

Today, some three decades later, I realize it was the issue of self-awareness that first got me interested in the study of management. At the time I was a young manager with plenty of my own problems, adjusting to a new field and barely able to keep my head above water.

But through the haze of my own confusion and learning, there was one thing I did notice: Several of the senior managers I was working with (especially some of the most old-school authoritative ones) seemed to have little idea how their actions were coming across to their employees.

A lack of manager self-awareness is a recipe for employee disengagement.

Stern talking-tos that were supposed to motivate were demotivating.

Barking out orders to get results was causing more resentment than production.

In short, some of the most experienced managers were having a hard time relating to their (often younger) employees.

But it wasn’t just an “age” thing; it was more a matter of conflicting styles. What I came to believe over time was that certain managers just didn’t have accurate perceptions of how the messages they were sending were being received. They assumed their messages would build productivity when in reality much of what they were building was frustration and turnover.

This isn’t to say that managers shouldn’t exercise firm authority. Naturally, they should when they need to—management without authority and high standards is hardly management at all. But when managers lack a clear idea of the effect that authority is having, that’s a recipe not for employee engagement but for disengagement.

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The value of multiple perspectives

If I were a CEO of a sizable company, one thing I’d drill down through my management would be the widespread use of 360-degree evaluations. There are many such tools out there and I have no interest in promoting one over another, but I strongly believe the basic idea of receiving candid feedback from many sides–from above (your own management), from below (your direct reports), plus horizontally (your peers)—is a sound one.

Sure, 360s have to be administered thoughtfully and appropriately, but when they are they can be a powerful tool to increase managerial self-awareness.

I know in my own case (I had quite a few 360s over the years) they provided valuable insights, especially early in my management career when I was finding my way. My typical high-level takeaways were along the lines of “he relates well to employees but needs to guard against tendencies to avoid conflict more than he should.” Was this true? No doubt it was–for me, these evaluations accurately identified strengths to build on and weaknesses to work on.

Simply put, 360s can be a useful way of formalizing feedback, which managers very often just don’t get enough of.

self-aware woman at work

Managers wear many hats.

360s may not always be enjoyable to take (or to receive the results from), but I firmly believe they have the potential to be beneficial: Self-awareness is a manager’s best friend.

Management is hard enough even if you have an accurate read on how people are perceiving you. Management is a complex and multi-faceted job requiring a mix of skills. Managers wear many hats; they’re alternately coaches, psychologists, policemen (and policewomen), accountants, and diplomats, among others, depending on what the role calls for at any given moment.

Without a realistic idea of how your employees see you, you’ll constantly be fighting headwinds in your day-to-day management. It’s a lot easier to have the influence you need to when those winds are calm and you can see yourself more clearly.  

Victor Lipman is a management trainer and author.

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