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02/01/2012 - Previous | Next | Career Corner Home
Nan S. Russell -- Do you think you're better than average? Picturing yourself in the top 10% is like thinking your way to success or riches, isn't it? Actually, it's not. In fact, it can even hinder your success.

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How would you respond to this question: "Are you one of the top 10% of performers in your company?" This question posed in a Business Week survey found that overall 90% of surveyed executives, middle managers, and employees from both large and small companies thought they were, indeed, in the top 10% of performers.

I'm not a math major, but how does that work exactly? In my twenty years in management that wasn't my experience. While I would have loved to work in companies bulging only with top performers, that scenario was not reality. What I found instead was the proverbial normal bell curve distribution. Most of us fall in the middle of that curve as "average" performers; a small percentage falls above and a small percentage below.

I doubt researchers would get the same results of skewed thinking if the questions had been about performance outside the workplace. What if you'd been asked: Are you in the top 10% of golfers or basketball players or meal preparers in your community? Or in the top 10% of people who are very healthy or fit, or financially secure, or involved in great relationships? Where would you place yourself then?

Why are we so inaccurate when assessing our own work performance? Professor Mark R. Leary calls it the "better than average" effect, noting in his book, The Curse of the Self, that most of us have a higher than average perception of ourselves, often blinding us to our shortcomings.

This tendency to judge ourselves better than we are might seem the perfect prescription to the adage of believing yourself to success or thinking yourself rich. But it's not. Believing you're better than you are is self-deception, not self-confidence. Believing you're a top performer when you're not can even hinder your ability to become one.

When performance coaching, developmental suggestions, or well-intentioned critique falls on defensive ears, it's hard to recognize opportunities that create personal growth and development. When we already "know" we're "great" it's much easier to fault our teachers, parents, or bosses for our lack of success or disappointing pay raises than to look in the mirror. And when we compose and believe our own positive internal press-releases, we can hijack our progress by stagnating our skills.

But people who are winning at working know a performance secret. They understand that accurate self-knowledge is essential for "real" top performance.

You see, people who are winning at working know not only what they're good at and what they're not so good at, but also what's easy for them to do and what's hard. They know what tasks or challenges are intriguing, fun, or exciting to them and which ones they find boring, tedious or cumbersome.

For people who are winning at working, self-knowledge allows them to hone their strengths and discover their unique talents, abilities, and personal success keys. Self-knowledge helps them surround themselves with people who excel in the areas they don't. And self-knowledge enables them to become the "real" top performers in their workplaces and keeps them winning at working.

Want to be winning at working? Start with self-knowledge.

Nan Russell is the award-winning author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books, January 2008), and nationally syndicated radio host of "Work Matters with Nan Russell" weekly on webtalkradio.net. Nan has spent over twenty years in management, including as a Vice President with QVC. Today she is the founder and president of MountainWorks Communications, as well as an author, speaker and consultant. Visit www.nanrussell.com or contact Nan at info@nanrussell.com.

© 2012 Nan Russell

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