For one of my MBA courses (an organizational behaviour course on leadership) students were required to create a “best self” assessment based on input gathered from family, friends, and co-workers. The following is the best self assessment I submitted:
The description of positive traits provided by my friends, family, and former co-workers (see the summary in the Appendix) was not especially surprising. I have a pretty developed sense of my strengths and the “best self” portrait they described was well aligned with my own self-image. That isn’t to say that the descriptions didn’t reveal something unexpected. In particular, I found it interesting to see how much people noticed about me and remembered about my past projects. I personally don’t see much of interest in what I do – I just do it. It comes naturally. It seems like the right thing to do. I assume that I’m pretty much the same as everyone around me. However, the remarks offered suggest that people don’t see me as equivalent to everyone else; it’s something that I have encountered in the past, and it still shocks me.
There was one particular description that I did find quite unanticipated, namely that I display a non-judgmental nature. The respondent indicated that I don’t judge people on the basis of sex, colour, or race. While I agree that I don’t judge people on the basis of these characteristics, I don’t believe this is enough to indicate a non-judgmental nature. I feel that I can be quite critical of people’s abilities and output: I expect people to be able to perform at my level, and can be harsh when people fail to meet those expectations. I suppose this trait is an extension of my belief that I’m pretty much the same as everyone else. If I can do it, why can’t they?
The most useful part of this analysis was getting confirmation of what I consider to be my positive strengths. It’s one thing to think I possess a strength, but I always worry I could be deluding myself. If nothing more, this “best portrait” exercise allowed me to understand which areas I don’t need to focus on.
To guide my development for the future, I have set the following three goals on the basis of this “best portrait”:
- Evolution not revolution: In the MBA program, I have often felt that my “shit-disturber” attitude was a liability – I’ve felt like a bit of an outsider with the other students because I don’t fall into line and accept things the way they are. Though I do believe I need to change this attitude, the “best self” portrait has highlighted that this quality is more of an asset than a liability, when used appropriately. But instead of completely changing myself, as I felt I might have to in order to succeed (both in the program, as well as in the business world), I should focus on how to incorporate this character trait in a more positive fashion. Less like Marlon Brando, more like “The Fonz”.
- Recognize my own value: I’ve got a pretty big ego, but underneath it I don’t believe that I necessarily do anything that anyone else couldn’t do. I need to stop and look at the amount and type of work I do, compare my level of performance to those around me, and recognize the unique and valuable contribution that I do make to my groups and the class. Of course, it has to be done in moderation – last thing I need is to flip-flop and become a total egomaniac! I also need to understand that it’s not realistic to expect everyone to operate at the same level, and recognize people for the unique and valuable contribution they make, even if it’s not the contribution I would make.
- Lighten up: Though my sense of humour was highlighted by respondents as an asset, responses indicated another set of common trait: overly serious. All of the comments talked about how I got things done, or got other people to get things done. Not a lot of fun there. Though it’s important to be productive, to do things right, to go out and get things done, I need to relax a little and not take things so seriously. No one lies on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time at the office. This is my life, and it’s ending one second at a time – so, seriously, I need to go have some fun and let it slide when things aren’t exactly up to my standards.
In the future, I’d be quite interested in conducting a similar survey with the aim to create a “worst portrait” that would allow me to understand the areas on which I need to focus improvement. While it’s useful to have your best traits verified, I think being told about those aspects that aren’t necessarily positive would be useful to eliminate my “blind spots”. You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken!
Responses included specific references to my work ethic, in particular my ability to focus on a project and carry it through to completion with speed and attention to detail. Respondents indicated that I am strongly self-motivated and work best when given a project with few operational parameters, thus allowing me to develop my own agenda and approach to solving the given problem.
Comments from respondents highlighted my willingness to share information with others, explain things in detail when required, and not withhold information to promote a sense of power. Respondents also indicated that this enthusiasm extended to “schmoozing”, and using information to persuade, enthuse, and motivate others around me. Finally, respondents noted my desire to interact with people in a devil’s advocate role to “get to the root of the matter”.
Responses indicated my irreverence for authority and ability to “rock the boat” in a good-humoured fashion enables me to think outside the box and pursue unconventional ideas relentlessly. “Big picture” thinking and strong problem solving skills were also specified as a strength that allows me to find new solutions to problems and handle unexpected circumstances without difficulty. A heightened sense of justice and a non-judgmental nature were also indicated as strong personal characteristics.
Common Examples Cited
Respondents cited a number of common examples to support their description of my best characteristics. Common examples cited include:
- Suing the UBC MBA Program: In response to the levying of tuition fees by the university after my acceptance, I joined a group of students to sue for breach of contract. This example was used to illustrate my “rock the boat” nature, persuasive abilities, and sense of justice.
- Writing a Book: I managed to convince New Riders to let me write my first book, “JXTA”, over five months of evenings and weekends while still working full-time. This example was used to illustrate my “get things done” attitude.
- Taking on Sony: My wife’s Sony laptop broke and I discovered it was not only a common problem, but also that the company had known for a long time. I doggedly pursued the company for nine months, gathered a coalition of people with the same problem, and finally got the problem fixed for all us for free. This example was used to illustrate my irreverence for authority and sense of justice.
- The MP Experiment: When I was unable to contact my MP via email, I conducted an experiment designed to determine the Internet-savvy of Members of Parliament by emailing every MP and posing as a constituent. Though the experiment earned me a visit from the National Security branch of the RCMP, it also brought the issue a fair amount of attention from the media, including Wired News, among others. This example was used to illustrate my irreverence for authority and strong self-motivation.