Lessons in Self-Perception from American Idol

Like the tone-deaf contestant who thinks he's going to Hollywood, you may overestimate your talent, while ignoring your true strengths.
October 25, 2012 If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you’ve seen weekly examples of what I call the denial phenomenon. During auditions, particularly untalented singers seem to firmly believe that they are amazing. Their ill-fated and often horrible auditions are followed by utter disbelief that they are not “going to Hollywood.” That got me thinking. As business owners, what if we say and do things that are unwittingly undermining our own success?
While things like talent, IQ and the hard work we put in all factor into our success, these can all be overridden by one expression or comment that we are not even aware we are projecting. In my leadership guide, The Women’s Code, I talk about seeing things—and ourselves—clearly in order to uncover who we are and where that fits into what we are trying to achieve.

Honest Self-Evaluation 

We like to have an image of ourselves as kind, successful, generous and whatever your desired attributes are. But the reality is that often we are not quite that, but something different.
Let me give you an example from my own life. My daughter once told me that I intimidate some people. I was shocked because I see myself as strong and opinionated, but not overbearing. But what if I was actually coming across that way and was alienating some clients and friends in the process? Was I that far off in my own self-evaluation?
It required some deep digging and a few painful realizations after observing my own behavior and asking some trusted friends and colleagues for feedback. Finally, I decided that I do need to tone down in some areas. Let’s just say I smile a lot more now and I think before I speak!

Leveraging Your Strengths

 On the other hand, ask yourself: What makes you stand out? What do people truly respond to the most? What are your best qualities? To find the answers try these simple steps:
  • Ask your clients what they like about your work the most and why.
  • Listen intently when people talk about you or recommend your services to others. This means not cutting them off when they start to show praise—let them finish and take note of their exact words.
  • Ask friends or close colleagues what they think you are really good at. Identify what brings you the most—and least—new clients or repeat business.
  • Finally, which tasks do you love to do and which do you struggle with?
We like to think that we are the most qualified for every task even if we don’t like to do them. This is where honest self-evaluation comes in. Once you recognize that the reason you don’t like to do something might very well be because you are no good at it, it will be easy to let go of those tasks that others can do better. The good news is that the things you are good at are probably those that make you money, so for the sake of cash flow, do more of what works and less of what doesn’t!
In my case, I like numbers, especially when they are positive. And although I’m pretty good at doing my own accounting, I hate doing it. So I found someone who is better and faster at running the numbers so now I’m free to work on the things I like most, such as coaching my clients to build their businesses, which in turn brings me more money.
What can you let go of so you can focus more on money-making tasks?

The Power of Work

In his bestselling book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell examines in detail a number of so-called overnight successes and found that their successes are largely a result of consistent work.

These people had incredible opportunity, yes, because they happened to be at the right place at the right time. But they also shared attributes of discipline, passion and hard work. In all cases, they put in more than 10,000 hours before they became “overnight” successes.

When you put 10,000 hours into something, you will likely become very good at it, regardless of your talent or IQ. That is when you become, as in my case, a 13-year overnight success. It’s why some make it and others don’t. They give up too soon. 

Commit to making improvements by using your time more efficiently to build on your strengths. You can study how-to books, blog articles or go to conferences to develop skills. Always be learning. In short, be prepared to work on the skills that will get you where you want to be.

Excellence Becomes a Habit

Is it enough for you to just to get it done or do you want to leave a mark? If you want to be noticed in a good way, you consistently have to make the extra effort it takes to be not just good, but great. 
The best part is, once you go down this road to success, you can't really turn around and go back to just skimming by. Excellence has now become your lifestyle. Regardless of where you are today or how smooth or bumpy your current path may be, if you do an honest self-evaluation, leverage your strengths and put the hours in, you will succeed. Or at least you will better understand why you’re not going to Hollywood.

OPEN Cardmember Beate Chelette is a respected career coach, consummate entrepreneur and founder of The Women’s Code, a unique guide to personal and career success that offers a new code of conduct for today’s business, private and digital world. Beate created The Women’s Code Leadership Model for Women in Business to be introduced in October, 2012.

What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a small-business owner?