Know thy self
Know thy self

Know thy self

Originally I titled this post “Job application – know thy self’ was a mistake. True, it is particularly important to know your own strengths and areas for development when seeking a post, it is no less important when you are in post. Hence, I have corrected the title. Simply, knowing who you are is important, and that is supported by knowing how other perceive you too.

Are you looking to take a first step into teaching, or that next step in your teaching career? Any career for that matter? I can assure you, that almost all recruitment processes will expected you to know who you are; your strengths and your areas for development and your outlook or philosophy for the industry you are applying to.

nosce te ipsum

Know thyself.

The more senior the position, the greater the clarity that will be expected. And if it is your first leading / managing role, you may as well have a rehearsed response to “So, tell me – what is the difference between leadership and management?”

Insufficient facts always invite danger – Mr. Spock

Both a word of caution and a word of motivation. Knowing thyself requires introspection and to be true / accurate / valid it requires the contribution those you interact with. All of us create barriers for our subconscious interpretation of ourselves, the contribution of those you interact with, is crucial if you really want to break through those barriers.

Warning: Placing your ‘self’ in the hands of others, even those you trust deeply, requires courage. This is path is not for the faint hearted or unyielding.

As a green Middle Leader I ploughed forwards, blissfully unaware and driven by “passion” and “determination” and a handful of other overused adjectives. I only asked for feedback once, as part of an Middle Leaders 360 assessment – did I use the information, I think I did. As a green Assistant Headteacher, I predominantly learnt about my shortfalls and blind spots through painful inexperience* and it was brutal. As a green Vice Principal, I benefited from the solicited feedback of two trusted colleagues and still seek out their council to this day but nothing formally from those that directly reported to me. I did ask the classes I taught. As a green Headteacher, I was guilty of making so familiar mistakes (no excuse) and some new mistakes. However I had the where-with-all / experience to take responsibility for those mistakes and share with staff what I was prepared to do to address them. It was not until my second year Headship that I proactively asked for feedback from my direct reports as part of a Leading at the Speed of Trust workshop and I course I reported to the Trust Board. More recently, I have benefited from the coaching of Julian Stanley.

From personal benefit and from professional experience, I would encourage any leader, at any and all levels, to conscientiously solicit and reflect on feedback from those all-around you, particularly your direct reports. Of course, there is always a opportunity for a conversation with oneself and then there is coaching.**

Whichever approach you take, you will require the self-responsibility to act upon what you learn and reveal about yourself. Whether or not you agree, whether or not you like what you find, you will be informed – nosce te ipsum.

Asking for feedback

Not specifically about professional leadership feedback or future potential, I have written about “asking for help” previously. Trust me when I say, you are far more likely to receive the help you ask for, than you expect. I am therefore discounting your low expectations of receiving help, as a reason not to ask. Asking for feedback, is – asking for help. Just go ahead. Leap.

Knowing yourself (good or not so good) empowers you and asking for help can help build rapport with those around you that you ask. It will inform your application and offer you the opportunity to speak with honesty and authority when asked, “So, what type of leader / person are you?” If nothing else, you are a leader that asks for feedback in order to be more self-aware and develop. What is there to lose?

Follow the instructions below. Copy and paste the text. Send. Learn. Reflect. Adapt.

Note: Once you ask for feedback, you can not give that feedback back. You will need to decide what to do, or not do, with it. That action / inaction is also an act of communication. Remember this path is not for the faint hearted or unyielding.

Asking for feedback

Feedback is hard to come by.

The more people there are that could help, the less likely it is, that any one will help.

Action: BCC your email request. Each email is received as a single, personal email. It does require that the email subject and body is written in a more open style. Make you subject enticing. Keep your body succinct.

Asking for feedback can cause some staff to worry about how to respond.

Asking for feedback may not common practice yet, and yes, it can lead to them thinking “Oh my, why has she/he asked for feedback?” or even worse, offering shallow or woolly responses. Asking those around you (360 style) is simply good practice and informative. Asking your line manager should not pose an issue, the power and authority is in their corner. Asking a peer colleague, where there is greater likelihood of a power balance, should prove less of a concern. Asking a direct report needs forethought and consideration. It follows.

Action: Avoid seeking critical judgements about you, or your leadership, rather seek responses that may inform your actions.

You are looking for specific and insightful feedback.

Action: Step 1. Ask brief, tight and creative questions. Step 2. Leave a space between each question. Step 3. Send a copy of the email to yourself. Then click reply. Does the reply email create a template into which the trusted recipient can easily and quickly reply?

Everyone is too busy. Time is precious.

Action: Send or delay delivery to the start of the day. Be precise. Why is help required? Why is recipient(s) best placed to help? If there is a common in-group identity, or common goals or experiences, reinforce them.

Thanking people in advance for their anticipated response is the least you can do. What if the feedback they return creates more time for everyone? Removes a blockage? Reduces you to do list?

Here is a preformatted outline – as we know, time is precious.

Good morning

As you know, preparing a personal statement for an application is a daunting task. So, I am gathering professional, honest and frank feedback from trusted colleagues like yourself, to help me write a better, more informed letter.

I just wanted to thank you in advance for taking the time to respond to three, short questions.

What do I do – that helps you to be most effective?

[Leave a space for their answer]

What would you like me to do more of – to help you be more effective?

[Leave a space for their answer]

What one thing would you like be to stop / start doing – to enable you to be most effective?

[Leave a space for their answer]

Many thanks – Kristian


  • BCC the address
  • Copy and paste the test
  • Subject line: Your feedback is important to me
  • Do a test email to yourself, to see how the email is received.

Informed – what next?

Lastly, once help has been discretionarily dispensed, you need to “promote the sense of effectiveness.” Without breaking confidence, summarise and share with the responders, the impact of the feedback. I would be surprise if there weren’t more than a few nuggets in there to improve things for everyone and one or two for you personally. Most certainly share with responder if you are short-listed for interview, even better, if you end up landing the job. Keep an eye out for the practice spreading.

If you try it out, do let me know how it goes. Especially if you have improvements, suggestions or revisions.

Other opening stems;

As you know, preparing for a mid year review is daunting. It is always worthwhile reflecting on one’s own contribution.

You may not now, but I am studying for my X qualification.

Hard Lessons* What’s the point of blogging? I write to help consolidate my thinking. In addition to that reflection, I have a record of my inexperienced and that serves up a slice of humble pie every now and again, and in doing so, helps me empathise with the dilemmas encountered by the aspiring leaders I coach and work with.

Declaration** – I am currently studying for a coaching accreditation.

What one thing would you like be to stop / start doing – to enable you to be most effective? – Following the interview with Steve Rogelberg, I changed “stop” to “stop/start”.

In a recent email conversation with a trusted teacher colleague, I was reminded that asking for feedback can be quite a step. I will add here, that these questions most certainly take into consideration both the solicitor and responder. The questions are carefully designed to elicit information that we can use to support our work and to support colleagues. The questions are focused on what we do – and not who we are. More feedback as fertilising than weed killer.

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