In last month’s article I discussed the first step of being coachable, which is the adoption of a learning mindset that includes the conviction that your career development matters to your employer. The second step of being coachable is a self-appraisal about your current capabilities and how they relate to your performance. This doesn’t mean a judgment of self-worth, but rather an assessment of who you are professionally and the consequences of your daily strategies for self improvement. During your self-appraisal, have a learning mindset that views yourself not as a fixed entity with inherent skills and competence, but as a life-long learner who thrives on progression toward mastery.
A difficulty to be overcome when thinking about yourself is the availability heuristic, which is the principle that what comes to mind most readily dominates your thinking. When appraising yourself, keep in mind that reflections about yourself who you were in the past will seem to sculpt a marble statue of you in which your personality, identity, habits, and attitudes are rigid and fixed. The accessibility and permanence of your thoughts about your past-self contrast with your perceptions of who you are now and who you wish to become. These possible selves are fleeting, ambiguous, and uncertain. In this soil, however, you sow the seed of self-enhancement.
Self-appraisal requires a standard against which you will measure your performance. When formulating a standard, be specific, seek models who demonstrate high achievement, ask others about their career approach, solicit feedback from valued sources, and reflect on your “best self,” who you are when you are excelling and true to your values.
To appraise your performance at work it is important that you understand the bedrock of your beliefs about yourself and your career. What do you aspire to be? What does this mean to you? What does it require? Are you doing it? In the last two weeks, what specifically have you done to inch closer to your aspirations? When thinking of a desired outcome, do you consider the elements necessary to actualize it? An aspiration without an action plan isn’t helpful. Aspiring to be a great acrobat is laudable, for example, but if you aren’t thinking of the necessary attitude and training, you’ll simply be a physics experiment involving mass and gravity.
To begin appraising you need to dig up your deeply rooted presumptions about yourself and your job. The basic presumption that must be addressed is whether you have a job or a career. Working for a job doesn’t require self-determined developmental efforts or goal setting. A job is a place to show up to so that you can come home with a paycheck. A career, on the other hand, is a set of skills, tasks, responsibilities, and opportunities for growth that you have integrated into your identity. For a job, you do things; for a career, you are things. The same occupation can be approached as a job or a career. A restaurant waiter, for example, could put in his hours indifferently and with the least amount of effort required. His identity and capabilities are disconnected from his job. Another waiter at the same restaurant could take a different perspective and challenge himself to add value to the diner’s experience by explaining in detail how dishes are prepared.
Jobs don’t require self-reflection regarding performance and attitudes, habits and reactions. A job ends when the clock strikes a certain hour, liberating the worker’s mind from the demands of his work day. A worker need not take it upon herself to learn new skills or set challenging goals. Her mind can simply focus on filling the hours required with an acceptable amount of effort. A career, on the contrary, doesn’t end at quitting time. Careers demand persistent learning and development aimed at an enduring sense of purpose beyond any dollar amount.
A career is a diligent and informed pursuit of mastery. It is a life course derived from the combination of self-appraisal and individual aspirations. After appraising oneself, aspirations can be crafted in an informed and task specific way. The career oriented individual has a learning mindset that perceives changing situations and increased demands to be opportunities to test her efficacy and derive the mental nutrients necessary to grow her capabilities. She assesses herself based on her standards and those of her employer, and then plans her approach and strategies. She is motivated by self-determination to control outcomes in a turbulent world.
The universe is between your ears
At the beginning of self-appraisal, you must discover if your aspirations and standards are attainable. This is an evaluative and agentive process of self-directedness, meaning you weigh the situation and identify necessary actions. This will be the basis of your approach toward self-development. It is important to harness your mental energy, steering it toward your developmental actions and away from negativity and self-doubt. Aim at achieving integrated regulation, which means acting because the behavior is personally and instrumentally important, valued, and meaningful. [cite Ox HB 89] Everything you do should be the product of reflection and intentionality, a step along the path toward increasing mastery. Find learning opportunities in which you refine the skills you have and acquire those you do not have. Be aware that you are the only person who can motivate you. Plan your focus, and focus on your plan.
Once you’ve appraised yourself, reflected on what should be done, and planned learning experiences to prepare you for success, it is time to assess your ability to do what’s necessary to succeed. What you need to appraise is your self-efficacy: the personal belief that you can accomplish what you intend to do. It’s a belief that you use to control your actions. A self-efficacy belief is based on an appraisal of your capabilities, motivation, knowledge, and available social or material support. Keep in mind that belief is stronger than reality in shaping our consciousness. A Zen master might say, “What you tell yourself is yourself.” Self-efficacy regulates behavior, monitoring what you believe before acting, influencing how you act, and shaping how you interpret the completed action.
To understand the role of self-efficacy beliefs, think of a recent learning experience that required you to believe in your ability to accomplish the desired outcome. Maybe you started taking yoga classes or learned how to ice-skate. Break down the experience into thoughts that you had which were effective and how these thoughts helped you master essential skills. You will see a progressive mastery process focused on positive thinking, persistence, and developing sub-skills that lead to more complex ones. This is an important thought exercise because, to derive self-efficacy, you need to be a reflective thinker, aware of the link between thought and action, and taking from this the confidence that you can exercise control during challenges and use them to expand your capabilities.
Self efficacy beliefs instill confidence that you are autonomous regarding your fate. They locate the source of causality within yourself, meaning that you have autonomy and control instead of your environment or other people controlling you. Autonomy and self-efficacy spawn competence and an openness to novelties of thought and action.
To assure commitment and feasibility during this process you need to ask yourself the following questions: (1) Are my aspirations based on my enduring values and standards? (2) Will my aspirations lead to success? (3) Do I have the self-efficacy to fulfill my aspirations? (4) What will it take and do I know the necessary strategies? (5) What outcome expectancies do I expect to result from meeting or not meeting my standards? (6) How will I respond emotionally to my successes and setbacks? (7) Were my self-efficacy appraisals accurate, standards appropriate, and strategies adequate? [Bandura, 132]
If, after an honest self-appraisal, you don’t believe you have the efficacy to realize your developmental goals, identify the tasks that you can do and emphasize them. As for your shortcomings, find learning situations, seek help from coworkers or superiors, and request direct and candid feedback to uncover what might be holding you back. Remember, career development is about acquiring skills, not inherently possessing them.
Self-appraisal is a process enacted by the career-oriented person to discover the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will catalyze his success. This sets the groundwork for building a resilient attitude toward the many opportunities for improvement that will arrive disguised as obstacles and threats. With a thoughtful and accurate self-appraisal the ground work for goal setting is established. Next month’s article discusses the goal setting process in terms of the most effective methods for establishing and striving toward goals.
Dr. Joseph St. Meyer has earned bachelor's degrees in psychology from the University of Iowa and in history from Northern Illinois University. In 2013, Dr. St. Meyer was awarded a Ph.D. in history from Stanford University. His intellectual training focuses on the origins and developments of modern psychology, philosophy, and politics. He has taught at Stanford University and delivered research papers at universities nationally and internationally. Dr. St. Meyer is a senior consultant at St. Meyer & Hubbard. He writes about coaching and coachability, especially the relationship between thought processing and performance.