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When Aspirations Don’t Line Up With Skill
Self-awareness is not as common among team members as we would like to believe. Truly knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses in vivid detail can be elusive for some. Colleagues with low self-awareness are also commonly blind to how others see and judge them and their skills.
When a lack of awareness is combined with an inflated sense of self-confidence, it can become a head scratcher. Leaders must learn to manage team members who have aspirations flying miles above their skills. This is never easy.
Convincing a colleague with low self-awareness that they do not have the skills or talents to achieve their aspirations is nearly impossible. After all, if they were able to grasp this reality, they wouldn’t lack self-awareness, now would they?
Conversations where aspirations don’t line up with the facts about skills and competence are not fun for anyone. Savvy leaders understand that attempting to directly convince those with low awareness of the facts is the wrong path forward.
The misalignment between what some team members think they can do and what they’re actually capable of doing can create huge disappointment. The shock and surprise of being told they don’t have the skill set can create fireworks or surrender.
Good leaders don’t make a frontal assault on this gap when they are dealing with an unaware team member.
Instead, the best leaders use others to paint a vivid picture of where things stand. Simply follow the maxim that perception is reality. Leaders collect the perceptions of others and then allow the unaware team member to stare reality in the eye and accept or reject it. What they don’t reject is the leader, as there are many voices with the same message and assessment.
Using data to state the case can be accomplished in a myriad of ways, but the best tactic is to use a formal process that is above repute. Asking the team member’s colleagues how they would rate the skills and readiness of the person in question is best done qualitatively. Having comments and ratings the team member can read and grapple with is essential. Even for those without self-awareness, just seeing how a large swath of colleagues perceives them becomes irrefutable.
When leaders bring this data to the conversation and then act compassionately about the disappointing perceptions, they stand the best chance of creating a breakthrough in understanding. It becomes a natural next step for the leader to help the team member set small goals within their control to address these perceptions and improve their skills.
Changing the awareness of those without it is a herculean task. The first step toward this change is understanding. Leaders who set their sights on creating an appreciation and understanding of how others see the team member give them a much-needed gift. To those with a skill and aspiration gap, it may not look like a gift; however, when they open it, good things can happen for everyone involved.