How do you get answers?
Go to your close colleagues in the organization and say, 'Hey, what are other people saying about me?' Ask your peers, ask a senior advisor who is in those talent review meetings. And tell them, "Be really, really candid with me." Most managers don't want to give bad feedback; it's an uncomfortable conversation. So you have to really go out and get it.
You write that the shortcomings usually come down to A.P.B. What does that mean?
Aptitude, personality or behavior. The easiest one is aptitude: If you don’t have great sales or accounting skills, you can take courses and learn. Behavior is probably the second easiest: You have to identify the trigger to your behavior and then try to adapt. That isn't easy, but it can be done. The personality piece—like if you have mood swings or are considered arrogant—that's probably the toughest, because it goes to the core of who you are. It's hard to tell people how to be.
You advise telling colleagues, 'I'm working on it.' But doesn’t that make you look weak?
The funny thing is, everybody in the organization already knows your individual strengths and development areas. They already know what your 'but' is. In fact, they probably talk about it at lunch. They laugh about it having a beer after hours. They just usually don't mention it to you. So I actually think it's the exact opposite. Owning it changes the dynamic: It frees you up and it puts your 'but' on other people, because you’re saying, "I'm working on it. Can you help me?"
Does this apply outside of corporations, say to entrepreneurs or the self-employed?
Absolutely. No matter what your job, there are things that you do that are inhibiting your performance. If you're an entrepreneur, you may not be selling as much as you could, or being as efficient as you could be. But you also have an advantage: If you have a small company of 20, 50, or 100 people, you can build this sort of candidness right into your culture and have much happier, more motivated employees. That's harder to do in a company of 50,000.
You also suggest watching your boss's 'but.' Why? Great leaders try to identify people that have a skill set that they don't have. If you fill that need, then your boss is going to take you with her as she goes forward, you’re going to get great performance reviews because you're helping the boss be more successful. And everybody wants that.