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Are You a Righty or a Lefty?
Self-Awareness Is the Key to Leadership Success

Are you a righty or a lefty? Everyone I ask answers that question within a second. They respond with certainty and confidence. They know whether they are right- or left-handed. If I give you a pen, or ask you to throw a ball, you do it without even thinking about it, with your dominant hand. If I ask you to do it with your other hand you can do it, although not as well, and it feels awkward. This self-awareness of which hand we favor is one of the reasons we are able to do those things well. If we didn’t know which hand to write with, or throw with, each time we picked up a pen or a ball, we would be ineffective. But we do know. What about your leadership style and/or personality profile? Do you know how you work best in those arenas? We all should; this knowledge enhances our job performance enormously. But the truth is most folks have no idea whether they are “lefties” or “righties” when it comes to leading.

Many leadership development programs offer assessments. Some go deeper than others, but all are highly effective tools to help increase self-awareness. We use several different kinds, depending on what you want to learn. But the ultimate objective is the same. Our firm enjoys a very high percentage of repeat business. I am often back with an audience again a year or two later. If we did an assessment earlier, I will usually integrate that content into the current program. I do it to build on material from before.

Over the years, I have asked thousands of people what their profile is; most do not remember. To combat this, we have added some elements during and after our programs to enhance retention. Still, this frustrating fact of people so easily dismissing the discoveries they’ve made through our assessments underscores two key failings: First, there is the lack of follow-up by leaders after they send people for training. Second, we all know we have a “personality type;” we just don’t know what to do with that information!

The first failing is pretty obvious and you have all been there. Your firm sent you to training, and the welcome you got when you returned to work was something like, “Okay, vacation is over. Now get back to work!” Maybe there is a quick and often disinterested question about the training session, but little more. Rarely does the boss sit down with the student to discuss the experience. Rarer still does the boss ask about actions the student plans to take and how can they work together to help with that application. And rarest of all is the opportunity for the student to conduct a teach-back to peers about something interesting he or she learned. Quite simply, the student is the victim of a leader who does not recognize the importance of this career development conversation. And that’s sad--but nowhere near as sad as the student who has learned something but does nothing with it.

This would be the righty who doesn’t know (or even care) which hand to use. While the lack of follow-up by the boss is distressing, the lack of recall by the attendee is frustrating. I challenge employees to apply the learning, I cajole them to research their style, I coach them in ways to use the new found knowledge. When all is said and done, only the really good ones will take it all to heart and apply it for future success. Why does this matter? Self-awareness is one of the differentiators between good leaders and great leaders. Leaders who know themselves and how they react to a given situation are better able to adjust their behavior to fit a particular situation, and they are the ones who reach the highest levels of success.
Imagine sending your child to school and, when you ask them what they did that day, they reply, “I don’t know.” (Yes, I realize this can be true with any teenager, but you get the idea.) What about sending someone to technical training to learn how to use a new tool? We should certainly expect them to come back and use the tool. This is no different. Sure, the tool is mental and not tangible, but the impact of its proper use might be even higher. Assessments for personal development are not some parlor trick to take up time. They are an essential part of leader development.

As noted earlier, the fault for lack of retention lies in a couple places. Certainly my colleagues in the training and development industry bear some burden for this. But we are only part of the problem. Any boss who sends an employee to training, but does little to follow up and help with retention, application and success, gets partial credit for this failing, too. But at the end of the day, I put the bulk of the burden at the foot of the individual who, when given a hammer to bang a nail, chooses instead to keep banging it with only his forehead. This is painful and ineffective. Leaders with low self-awareness can be like that.

So, I ask you. When it comes to personality, are you a righty or a lefty? Are you a D, an ESTJ, an introvert, or a pragmatist? So many assessments, so little application. Go ahead and increase that application. Then watch your results soar!

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Client Comments:

" ...it was one of the most dynamic and interesting talks I have ever witnessed on general leadership and effective management. I thought it was very interested to see how you approached the topic from the bottom up -- from the grunt's perspective. This made the topic very easy for me to relate to and gave me ideas on how to develop the leaders I am responsible for."

Noel S. Salac, P.E.
Construction Engineer
Nebraska Dept. of Roads

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