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Stalled Career? You May Be Overestimating Your Self-Perspective

Use Performance Journaling to Gain "Executive Presence"

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Priya was frustrated with herself. Just minutes earlier, she had come across too forcefully during a team video call.

A rising executive at one of the world’s most successful tech companies, Priya’s argument had been perfectly sound. But her impassioned delivery had been met by sudden, awkward silence.

One of her colleagues broke the silence to rescue her. “I think what Priya meant to say was,” he began, before thoughtfully restating her position. The team welcomed his version of her thinking and began framing execution plans on the spot.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened. Priya was beginning to realize she had a pattern of coming across as too strong, thereby alienating would-be supporters. Her boss had given her this feedback a few times now, as had a trusted teammate.

Can A Personality Flaw Stall Success?

Staring out of her home office window, Priya wondered how to change her approach. Sometimes I just see things others can’t, she brooded, and I feel like I have to wake them up! I don’t know what else to do!

She did know one thing, though – her current approach wasn’t working. Whenever she got worked up, people would shut down and stop listening to her.

She’d started questioning whether her personality itself might be flawed. Maybe this is just who I am, she thought. What if I don’t have what it takes to be successful at this level? What if I just can’t cut it?!

It was around this time that Priya’s company hired me to work with her. Far from thinking she couldn’t cut it, her boss appreciated her many talents and was willing to invest in her development. She knew Priya had impeccable technical skills. But she was also keenly aware that Priya needed to improve her interpersonal finesse to play successfully in the big leagues.

How Self-Awareness Begets Perspective And Influence

In my executive coaching practice and my 25+ years as a senior executive at companies like Microsoft and Novartis, I’ve seen this story many times. Fortunately, it has a very workable solution.

I explained to Priya how, without awareness, there’s only habit and pattern. But with awareness, there’s perspective and choice – and responsibility! If she could cultivate a heightened awareness of her off-putting idiosyncrasies, she could better self-manage in high stakes moments and more fruitfully influence her colleagues.

Intrigued, Priya wondered exactly how she was to go about raising her awareness.

“There’s a great technique for this,” I said, “but you have to practice it. When you do, I promise the results will knock your socks off.”

Use Performance Journaling To See The True You

Elite athletes watch videos of themselves to improve their performance. This helps them see what they’re doing right and what they need to correct. They can then work to adjust with the help of their coach.

Actors, news anchors, public speakers, and many others use the same technique. In fact, anyone who wants to up their game can put the principle to use – and video recordings aren’t necessary.

The Stagen Leadership Academy, where I’m on faculty, has developed a powerful technique corporate executives can use to “see” their performances just like professional golfers and ballet dancers. It’s called Performance Journaling, and it works like this:

Step 1: Replay

First, think of a situation in which you didn’t behave the way you wish you had. Maybe it was during a business meeting or when talking with a family member. Write down what happened, describing the situation to the best of your ability. Keep your description brief and fact-based, as in a video recording. Don’t editorialize, interpret, or ascribe motives.

Next, write down the results of your behavior, including the consequences and implications of your action. Again, keep your description succinct and stick to the facts.

Step 2: Reflect

Now it’s time to write what you were thinking and feeling during the situation. What was going on in your head? How were you feeling – angry, excited, pessimistic, stressed, vulnerable? Describe whatever you can recall about your inner state.

Next, write down what you actually did and said. Then describe your mindset during this behavior. For example, were you playing the victim? Were you persecuting others? Were you rescuing others? Avoid the temptation to explain what others did. Just describe yourself.

Step 3: Self-Author

So far, you’ve been investigating a past situation. Now you’ll focus on what you want for the future.

Start by identifying and writing down any critical insights you’ve gained from Steps 1 and 2. What habits and patterns do you notice in yourself? Which of your behaviors showed up this time, just as they have in the past? What seems to trigger those behaviors?

Now ask yourself what you genuinely want in situations like this one. An excellent way to understand your desired outcomes is by examining your core values. Consider how behaving congruently with your core values can help achieve what matters most to you. For example, if transparency is one of your core values, you might aspire to be clear and direct with others while speaking considerately.

Finally, make an action plan. Write down your next step, or what you intend to do differently the next time you face a similar situation. Be as specific as you can. Writing your action plan helps cement your intention to follow through.

Suddenly, The Freedom To Choose A Better Direction

On my recommendation, Priya committed to doing Performance Journaling at least once a week over several weeks. During our coaching sessions, she reviewed her journal entries with me, sharing her insights and intentions.

Within a few short weeks, she noticed clear patterns in her behavior, and she recognized that similar triggers were setting her off time and again. This awareness enabled her to anticipate potentially problematic situations and plan ahead to behave in ways that better served her and the people around her.

Before long, she realized that continually observing her own behavior provided perspective she’d never had before. She also realized that this new perspective offered her the choice to continue behaving as she had in the past – or choose a better direction.

Priya felt liberated by this new insight. Almost overnight, she recognized that her off-putting behaviors could no longer enslave her, even if her personality predisposed her to them. Instead, armed with an awareness of her triggers and patterns, she could now assess situations and choose better options, which she did.

Gaining Executive Presence

Midway through our coaching work together, Priya and I met with her boss and HR partner. I asked them what changes they’d seen in her over the past few months.

They both applauded Priya’s turnaround and emphasized the positive change they had witnessed in her mindsets and communication style. They also highlighted the dramatic increase in what they termed her “executive presence.” In short, they were delighted with her transformation. They congratulated Priya on her courage to change.

Priya was thrilled with her newfound capability and proud that others were seeing positive change in her. Later, she shared with me that her boss was writing up a formal recommendation for her promotion – something she’d had her eye on for several years.

The Tool Of Champions

Of all the skills I teach my clients, heightening awareness has by far the greatest positive impact on their career performance – not to mention their overall satisfaction and joy in living. The deliberate, repeated practice of “watching” their own mental performance through journaling increases awareness better than any tool I know, especially when done under the tutelage of a skillful executive coach.

If you’re struggling with behavior that’s holding you back from the next level of performance (and who among us isn’t?) I challenge you to start taking these Performance Journaling steps today. You’ll be amazed at what you learn from your self-observations – and the results will take your breath away!


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