how to know yourself better

reflection morguefile webDo you like homework? Neither do I… usually.

However, this fall I had to do a homework assignment for our Global Leadership MA class that I want to recommend to you. It was, by far, the most encouraging homework assignment I have ever done. The exercise is called “Your Reflected Best Self” (RBS), and it is fully described in the Harvard Business Review article, “How to Play to Your Strengths” from January 2005.

The exercise is not designed to build your ego, although it might do that. A while back I wrote about how we often receive six comments of negative feedback to one positive. The RBS is a systematic tool that balances out that ratio by discovering or confirming strengths and potential. With some analysis and application (done best with the help of a coach), you can use the information gained to develop a plan to maximize your talents at work and in other areas of life.

It works like this:

Step 1: identify a variety of people to give you feedback

Chose 10 to 20 people – family, past and present co-workers and bosses, friends, etc. Send them an email like this…

Dear XXXX,

As part of my personal development program, I am constructing a profile of the ways that I add value and contribute. I am contacting twenty people who know me well from a variety of relationships: family, friends, co-workers. I am requesting that each person provide me with three stories of when I was at my best and my strengths were meaningful to them in some way. I would like to invite you to help me with this exercise.

I appreciate you taking time to do this for me. Please provide specific examples so I can understand the situation and the characteristics you are describing. One short paragraph will be fine.

1. One of the ways that you add value and contribution is: _______

For example….

2. Another way that you add value and contribution is: _______

For example…

3. One last way that you add value and contribution is: _______

For example…..

Please email your responses to me by XXXXX.

Thanks so much for your help!

Step 2: observe patterns from the responses received

Enjoy reading the email responses! A good way to see the common themes is to create a chart. It might look something like this…

Common Theme

Examples Given

Possible Interpretation

Ethics 1. I stood up to a peer who was crossing the line of ethical behavior. 


I am not afraid to choose right over wrong.
Team Builder 1. I coached our softball team. 

2. I created a work group for a big project. 


I thrive working with others.

Step 3: write a personal profile and compare it with your day-to-day life

After you summarize the feedback, you will know yourself better and the tasks, atmosphere, and relationships that energize you and facilitate your strengths. You can then evaluate where and how often you get to use your talents. Those are likely the times, projects, and situations where you are most encouraged and most productive. If you are not using your best self very often, you can understand why you feel tired and discouraged.

Step 4: redesign your job 🙂

It is not always possible to redesign your whole job, but sometimes there is freedom to make a few key adjustments. We can also make changes at home to allow more time for the people and the tasks that bring out the best in us. This is when coaching is helpful – to think through where to make the changes… and help us actually follow through.

I learned a lot about myself by doing this exercise; I hope you will too. If you decide to try it, please let me know what you find out about your Best Reflected Self!

14 thoughts on “how to know yourself better

  1. Pingback: Getting the Most out of Assessments – LDHR

  2. I have been thinking a lot how to get to know myself better. I have identified 10+ techniques and one of them is also asking people around you, besides thinking of characteristics you love and hate in other people.

    Here are the rest of my techniques if you are interested:

    This template how to ask is awesome. Thanks.

    • Thanks for visiting, Blaz. Your post and your website have lots of great resources. Your 15 Homework assignments on the post are especially practical and useful. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Pingback: Superman vs. Achilles: Why self-awareness is important for a leader | Leader Impact

  4. Thanks for reminding me of this! I am going to use this a couple of times this spring with teams I lead! What did you find out?

    • The feedback highlighted… faith/joy, contributer/excellence, coach/mentor, leader, and hospitality. Sweet comments and lots of affirmation. 🙂 Let me know how it goes for you and your teams – I think they will really like it!

  5. I also did the RBS exercise as you know. I found it extremely helpful and valuable. I am usually aware of and focus on my weaknesses, but this was fun to do. Very encouraging as we go through transition. I think everyone would benefit from the RBS exercise.

  6. Reblogged this on Leader Impact and commented:
    Self awareness is huge in leadership. There are constant challenges in leading others but, leading oneself may be the biggest challenge of all. Leading ourselves effectively begins by knowing ourselves better. Knowing ourselves helps us lead, live and love better. We are often too aware of our faults and weaknesses. I have benefited from the Reflected Best Self exercise from the Harvard Business Review that Terry summarizes below. It will help you know your strengths as well as be very affirming. Read her blog! One nice thing she includes is an email you can send to the people you want to give you feedback. It is simpler than a formal 360-degree feedback and only focuses on the positive! Try it out, especially if you are in transition.

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