Career Progression Factors, part 3 (Self Knowledge)

By 9 December 2015 December 10th, 2020 Achievement, Behaviours, Personal Development

Having covered the considerations of (1) Environment and Organisation Objectives, and (2) your Purpose and Ambition, in this concluding part of the series on Career Progression Factors I invite you to consider the role that self knowledge plays in any campaign for advancement to senior leadership levels.

Self-knowledge is characterised by the beliefs that we never stop learning more about ourselves, and that we continue to change.  The person I was at 20 was merely an outline of the person I had become by 30, and at 40 I understood more clearly my own shortcomings, and was significantly leveraging my true talents. And as I approach 50, I feel myself letting go of the vain pursuit of things I will never be while also having a renewed strength to pursue those ambitions that I can achieve, based on my understanding of self.  My reflective clients in their 60s share with me the joy they derive from working in a capacity that is true to them, and also that the “static interference” of aspects of their work that no longer appeal to them are also no longer such a grind.  Self knowledge facilitates this near nirvana considerably.
As we all embark on our own self-knowledge journeys, 3 factors can make all the difference:
  • Values
  • Strengths
  • Personality pitfalls


Know your values and focus on demonstrating them to others. If you find yourself in an organisation or with a set of behavioural expectations that are misaligned with your values, your well-being suffers.  And naturally, in order to be in work that is aligned with your values, you need to know what they are.  Beyond integrity and honesty, there are a whole slate of values that are particular to you. Consider yours and those of your organisation.  Which organisational values can you personally espouse?  Focus on those and demonstrate them to the best of your ability.  For help with knowing your personal values,  do the Values Exercise on the Talent Futures website.


Ever scored the winning goal, played a piece of music flawlessly, given a stellar presentation at work, or worked all night with your team until you found a brilliant solution together? Chances are you have experienced what positive psychologists term being “in flow.”  When in flow, we use our strengths and are completely engrossed.  And rather than feel drained by the effort, the experience is intensely energising. Self knowledge is also about knowing which of our strengths put us “in flow” and leveraging those appropriately. In the past few years I have worked with many clients and organisations on determining their strengths in flow and effectively marshaling their use. The results can exceed all expectations…and unearth some hidden assumptions along the way that hinder performance.

Personality Pitfalls  

The third, and stickiest, aspect of self knowledge is understanding when we get in our own way–our personality pitfalls.  We all have a few!  Long ingrained and learned from childhood, personality pitfalls are ways of behaving that we have long used to relieve stress.  At some point in our lives they were effective methods for making our situation better, but now when we are stressed we can sometimes unwittingly over-apply these behaviour patterns.  Often we do not even realise we are doing it.

The most successful executives are aware of their own personality pitfalls and take steps not to “indulge” in them by default, but instead to make conscious alternate choices in behaviour.  One former client of mine has learned over the course of his career when not to apply his tendency toward perfectionism.  He has a natural love for ensuring all aspects fit together, but he also knows that to try to do that in an inexact organisation would be a tremendous waste of time and effort.  He instead tries to channel his perfectionism into his personal hobbies and use his tremendous capacity for fitting details together at work only when it will make a significantly positive difference. His careful management of his personality pitfall has helped him achieve leadership of Europe in one of the world’s largest organisations.

Another former client of mine carries within himself a truly revolutionary spirit.  Yet he works in one of the largest investment banks.  He acknowledges that if overused, his anti-establishment streak could do his team and himself a great disservice.  Instead, he likes to challenge at the edges, making sure they stay alert to new information and ways of looking at things as they create the market insight they are known for.

And a third former client is a natural rapport builder, able to exude genuine warmth and foster a strong connection with just about anybody.  If he indulged in all the connections and the networking without also allowing himself time to reflect and develop a clear strategy for what he wants to achieve, he wouldn’t be nearly as successful as he is today.

How do you identify your own personality pitfalls?  Think about the last time someone remarked on some aspect of your behaviour that really irritated you or that felt unjust.  It might not be an accurate assessment, but if their description of your behaviour provoked a strong reaction in you, there is something about your use of that behaviour and where that comes from that you could reflect on.  And of course you could always look at your year end feedback, or 360 feedback, and consider which 1 or 2 pieces most impact your success, given your purpose and ambition.


It takes an extraordinary person to succeed at senior executive level. Beyond natural talent, Purpose & Ambition, and a keen sense of the Environment & Organisation Objectives, a lasting ability at senior executive level requires Self-Knowledge gained through reflection. It helps us stay true to our values, leverage our strengths, and regulate our natural personality preferences.

So this year as you look back on your performance and create your goals and development plan for 2016 and beyond, try to find the “sweet spot” where these three areas overlap. Consider these questions:
  • Given my ambitions, what strengths do I need to use effectively?  How might I get in my own way?  What can I do to prevent that?
  • In what ways does the company’s objectives and the current environment present opportunity for me to achieve the next step toward my goals?
  • What do I most need to learn in order to achieve my purpose and ambition?  How can I position that to be in alignment with the company goals?

From considering these aspects you will be better able to create a targeted and realistic development plan, allow yourself to encounter any mishaps along the way without losing faith, and enjoy your successes.

With best wishes for a happy holiday season and a reflective and productive New Year,

Victoria Hall, Executive Coach
Founder of Talent Futures

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