POST WRITTEN BY Steven Pfrenzinger
Steve Pfrenzinger – entrepreneur, coach to entrepreneurs & HOF investor in entrepreneurs, specializing in self-awareness www.CoachSteveP.com
Entrepreneurs and change agents of all categories face many challenges. But none greater than the unknown blind spots and baggage that accompany a lack of self-awareness. As with all innovators, what they don’t know about themselves will hurt them and their efforts to solve big problems.
As an entrepreneur, a coach of entrepreneurs, and an investor in entrepreneurs, I’ve seen this seldom-discussed issue sink or slow progress for even the best and brightest. My goal here is to assist entrepreneurs in gaining the superpower that comes with being a fully self-aware and a better understanding of why feedback matters.
1. What is self-awareness?
Being self-aware means knowing:
A. Who we are
B. What we’re good at
C. Where we need to improve
D. That there’s no gap (unknowns) between how we see ourselves and how others see us.
In the Johari Window, a diagram mapping what we know about ourselves and what others know about us, the “Open Self” is the upper left quadrant. Being self-aware or lacking self-awareness is not a binary, either-or status. There are degrees/states of self-awareness. To be fully self-aware, A, B, C and D must be achieved and maintained.
As for who we are and what we’re good at (A and B above), we all have natural “traits” (preferences) that we carry most of our lives. These core traits are characteristics that give us a natural advantage. When fully recognized, this makes us “wired” for certain roles and responsibilities, where the odds in our favor.
Knowing where we need to improve (C above) is discussed below, but basically comes from raw feedback from others like coaches, bosses, peers, and subordinates.
As for the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us (D above), that, too, is reconciled by feedback. For example, we may be certain that we are intelligent, visionary and a great communicator. But if others see us as loud, overly aggressive, or a micromanager, we’re “out of sync.” That’s noise in the channel. I’ve seen entire ventures collapse on this disconnect.
2. What does self-awareness include?
It includes who we are in terms of beliefs, character, feelings, purpose, and reasons to exist — stuff only we know. Plus, what we’re good and not so good at, like our strengths and weaknesses. A deep-dive mental model like Myers-Briggs or Big Five can help here. But they can’t tell us whether we’re “in or out of sync” with our Open Self. That requires getting feedback from others.
3. How do we gain self-awareness?
Honest feedback is the key to being fully self-aware. Feedback can come from others who know us, or it can come from tools like intelligence, personality, or skills tests. There are 360-feedback surveys and many tools to discover how others see us (aka our reputation). There’s also the direct method of asking others. For example, “What do you think when you hear my name?”, which very few are brave enough to ask. It also means being secure enough to give others honest feedback.
Feedback can come from many other sources as well because it’s simply the result of self-discovery. We just have to be alert enough to recognize it and act on it. For example, Jeff Bezos was studying to be a theoretical physicist at Princeton when he discovered firsthand that he couldn’t compete with the top students in his class. He wanted to be the best, so he took that feedback and pivoted to selling books on the fast-growing internet. Then Amazon was born.
4. Why do we fear feedback?
Many have an irrational fear of honest feedback. It does require being vulnerable and acknowledging you don’t have all the answers. I tell my clients to “never fear feedback,” as I’ve discovered feedback is 95% good news or fixable. It can confirm a strength, identify an underutilized strength or highlight negative issues. But the vast majority of those are “easy to fix.” If you’re a micromanager, stop micromanaging. If you’re loud and/or overly aggressive, dial it down a few notches.
5. Why is feedback so hard to get?
There are four main reasons we don’t get comprehensive, timely, and actionable feedback:
• We don’t observe ourselves very well.
• We don’t ask for it.
• Others don’t give it to us.
• We don’t hire others to gather it for us.
Start by making it known to all that you are open to their constructive feedback, both good and bad. But beware, the higher up in your position or status (e.g., as a manager or boss), the harder it is to get honest feedback. Can you envision yourself going to your boss and saying, “Hey, great presentation today, but none of us has any idea what you’re talking about.”
6. How does self-awareness change us?
Self-awareness changes everything! It’s an entrepreneurial superpower; it’s an X-factor, but why? Because it takes us from thinking to knowing. That, in turn, gives us confidence and certainty. When we have certainty, we change, and everyone notices. We stand taller, our voice is deeper and we make better eye contact.
My life was changed forever after a random intelligence test told me in my late teens that I was wired for success in the world of technology. I took a crash course in programming and, in a matter of months, I went from a know-nothing kid working at a car wash to a salaried programmer at a major aerospace firm. Who knew? My tech career was launched.
Simply stated, entrepreneurial progress is far more difficult without honest feedback and the self-awareness it provides. And, of course, you need to be motivated, to persevere, to pivot when needed, to fundraise and all those standard prerequisites.
While self-awareness is less-often-discussed, it is an absolutely critical component of entrepreneurial success. I hope some of these insights will help you avoid this common Achilles’ heel.
Steve Pfrenzinger – entrepreneur, coach to entrepreneurs & HOF investor in entrepreneurs, specializing in self-awareness