Here’s a thought, prompted by a conversation with colleagues this week, for your personal development folder:

in regione caecorum rex est luscus

(“in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king” - Erasmus of Rotterdam, Adagia, 1500)

Huh? Perhaps I should restate the thought, but in more modern language. After all, Erasmus might have packed a weighty punch when it came to academic disputation or arguing the toss with Martin Luther, but he probably wouldn’t have known a competitive advantage if it fell on his head. So how about:

If you are a highly qualified high-achiever, in a company of highly qualified high-achievers, it is self- and others-awareness that will make or break your career.

By all means call that Emotional Intelligence if that helps; but it is the reality I am interested in. Are you fully alert to how you react to people and situations? Do you have a clear view of the effect your actions, and especially your reactions, have upon others around you? Are you managing that dynamic for the benefit of all, and how?

As one colleague suggested, get this stuff wrong in a big company and no one will tell you; but everybody knows about it, and it rapidly acquires career-limiting power. It is precisely for this reason that HiPo programmes usually include an element of individual coaching; I know we have been called in on more than one occasion to attempt to save a situation where an identified high-potential is resolutely driving themselves off the rails by their unconsidered actions.

And that is the problem. How do you see what you can’t see? If you are familiar with the JoHari window, we aren’t talking Unknowns here (Donald Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns”); rather these are blind spots - those things of which we are unaware but which everyone else sees. That - the fact that everyone else can see the issue - arguably makes it worse.

As it happens, H.G. Wells wrote a short story in 1904, called “The Country of the Blind”, in which a man journeying through the Andes stumbles upon a literal ‘country of the blind’ in a hidden valley. Thinking he will rule them (as in Erasmus’s proverb), instead he discovers that he is completely rejected as unstable and unreliable, because of his “unbalanced obsession with an imaginary sense” (sight). That’s the problem: what you can’t see (literally, in this case) has great power.

So what can one do?

Well, clearly, you need to start seeing what everyone else is seeing. The reason we use only the Birkman Method in our practice is that its unique (even serendipitous) structure not only gives you a measurement of your own perceptions of self and others, but one which is fully calibrated against the rest of the population. (Please don’t try any of this with the ‘sorter’ tools which make up the bulk of the psychometric landscape…)

So, for example, you might be saying “I’m pretty direct, but then so is everyone else”; when in fact your scores immediately demonstrate that you are much less conscious of the effect of your words than most people are. Conversely, you might say “nobody could be more sensitive than I am”, and still be much less sensitive to others than most people are. And those two examples cover no more than 10% of the population, so there are many other possibilities, such as the hyper-sensitive person who thinks they are pretty much are the embodiment of “directness”, and so on. 

Or take a different example, one I love working through in a group setting. You could be the person who expects themselves to keep to themselves and get on with their own work, but who, whenever left out of a group invitation (usually because they are seen as a bit of a hermit) finds themselves saying, “well, who needs people anyway?” Except of course, in this particular example, the answer is “you do!”

There are almost unlimited possibilities here: but each of these cases illustrates the framework within which a person can make some serious mis-steps (ones that can make or break a career). The point is that we all need a way of understanding who we are, compared to the rest of the population; and how our perceptions of others compare to how those others really are. Call it EQ or EI or Emotional whatever; really it is about ensuring you have at least one eye open and fully functional.

Originally posted on LinkedIn - Published August 3, 2016