Creative LeadershipCreativity

Your Lack of Self-Awareness Is What Will Get You Fired

The woman screamed at everybody. Many years ago, I had the strange opportunity to work with a national nonprofit who hired a woman to run their media department. She apparently had solid credentials, and leadership was excited to have her onboard – at least at first. But it wasn’t long before the screaming started. Honestly, in retrospect I believe she thought screaming was a leadership skill.

I was in a meeting in her office once, and when a friend walked by outside her open door I waved a simple “hello.” She yelled, “What are you doing? You’re meeting with me. Ignore everyone else, or find another job!” Honestly, I’ve never seen someone so angry.

She was fired after six months.

I can share many more horror stories of people who were absolutely confident of abilities they didn’t actually have, or displayed behaviors that alienated people, or had personality quirks that drove co-workers crazy. Sometimes they’re protected because they’re either related or close friends to the boss, or they happen to be good at “managing up” – but sooner or later the clock runs out, and they’re let go.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “Self-awareness is understanding who we are and how we are similar to or different from others. One key facet is self-knowledge – how we see our various personality traits, values, attitudes, and behaviors. But another aspect is being aware of how consistent (or inconsistent) our self-view is compared to an external appraisal – how other people see us or against objective data.”

In other words, are your gifts and abilities, personality, values, attitudes and behaviors consistent with how others see you? If you were to describe your performance or expertise at work, would your co-workers agree? Is how you think about yourself accurate?

Start with brutal honesty about yourself. Insecure people tend to ignore the warning signs because they’re afraid to take that cold, hard look inside. Talk to people – and not just people who report to you. Get objective opinions about your performance and compare them with your own perceptions.

Just as important is to be a reader. Study. Learn people skills. Follow admirable examples of others in your area of expertise. Always be lining yourself up against those who accomplish great things, and work on areas that need improvement.

Over my career, I’ve noticed that people who get fired are rarely those who are incompetent, make mistakes, or lack talent. The vast majority of people who get fired, are people who simply can’t get along with co-workers. And that’s because they lack self-awareness and are ignorant of how others perceive them.

That’s why getting fired is often such a shock. They simply can’t (or refuse to) believe that they weren’t liked, respected, or a good fit with the team.

Don’t let it happen to you. If anything, strive for the kind of humility that gives you an accurate view of how you fit into your team or your company. Because those types of people can accurately see any problem in plenty of time to make a change.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

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  1. I once had to fire someone for constant, repeated data mistakes. She had multiple warnings, a written warning by HR, and finally we called her in and let her go. She was completely flabbergasted she was being terminated. Absolutely couldn’t believe it – total shock to her. Which told me we did exactly the right thing.

  2. Perspective, perspective, perspective. You make a great point in saying that you need to talk to people who will give you a completely objective view of how you are perceived. This will take a brave step to face the brutal honesty that may not match your personal view but it’s the only way to take inventory of your situation and move forward. Great article Phil.

  3. Excellent, and applicable to whole societies as well. Thinking of the reaction to the 2016 election. Half the country still cannot fathom why anybody would not see the world as they do. Truly a major human failing is self-deception tied to a lack of self-awareness.

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