Can you be a DOER and SELF-AWARE at the same time?

2018-0214 Strengths

Another report from the coffee shop…Here I am, listening in again. It’s a popular spot, close quarters. You can’t help but overhear people’s conversations. Sometimes I pick up a nugget or two for leadership reflection. Like from the table next to me today.

Two women, I gather from their conversation, co-owners of a small business, are in the market for someone in a customer-facing project manager position.  A third young woman has just arrived to be interviewed. From the introductions, it sounds like she had the right qualifying credentials, PMP, management position, experience in the industry with a much larger company.

Not far into the interview, I saw the dynamics shift. Now I’m not hearing everything, but I’m in a good position to observe the non-verbals. The initial pleasant chattiness turned towards intensity.  The candidate, from what I could observe, appeared poised, confident, and answered the questions in a pleasant tone.

After about 30 minutes the interviewer says something about “it’s clear there was a major disconnect on the requirements for this position. It sounds like you really want more broad experience than this position will offer. This is a hands-on team leader position.”

I can see the candidate’s shoulders deflate, “Oh, I thought it was for a project manager.”

With a lull in other nearby conversations, I heard something like, “Well, we want a PMP but the position is not a project manager. It’s a first line supervisory position for a small team working on the client site. Sounds like this would be a demotion from what you are currently doing. There is no upward mobility here. That’s the nature of this contract.”

Wow! I didn’t see the job announcement of course, but I’m thinking, was it a bit of false advertising? Why else would an experienced project manager apply? The interview concludes with some pleasantries and “We’ll keep you in mind if something else opens up.”

The interviewer’s partner, who spent the whole time facing the candidate but working on her laptop, made a comment after the young woman left the shop. “You really shifted on her. I was surprised when you said it was a team leader role. It’s bigger than that.”

“Yeah, when she started bringing up Strength Finder and how her strengths (tone of disgust) contribute to the client experience (big eye roll), I turned off. I need a DOER to drive the team, not somebody that’s going to be reflective.”

Of course, there could be lots of reasons why the interviewer shifted gears on the candidate. Maybe the job really wouldn’t have been a good fit for her.

From my perch a few feet away, I was taken aback by such a visceral negative reaction to the self-awareness the young woman exhibited.  The story going on in my head is that it wasn’t the strengths themselves the interviewer cared about. It didn’t sound like she was curious enough to ask more questions about how this would be a benefit to the project. What she took issue with, it seems, is that the candidate displayed critical thinking by being self-aware. In the manager’s mind, this is contrary to DOING.

I’m recalling my own experience as a not-incredibly-self-aware leader in my early days. How many times did I think DOING meant progress? Yes, driving people hard, diving into action, can get things done.

But at the expense of what?

Having a one-sided approach based on my own limited ideas?

Ignoring the strengths that others bring that could make this result better?

A hard-earned lesson for me was that before I could be open to engaging what others could bring, I had to know my own strengths—and my own limitations. I had to be very aware of when my ego could be getting in the way of progress. To trust myself when there was something that was in my wheelhouse. To trust and enable others when we needed something I was not adept at bringing.

In my personal and coaching experience, I have found that playing to our strengths—and leveraging the strengths of others– makes us far more effective DOERs.

What is your experience in working with your own strengths?


Photo Credit: Pixabay/AlexVan (CC license)


(703) 417-9411 | Email Us | VAULT Associates, LLC ©2 014 | Website Design: Designs by Nikki LLC