Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003.  Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” is what clients value most.  Grace writes a regular column for WRAL TechWire. She is traveling this week. This column is a reprint. 


“Knowing thyself is the essence of leadership.”

  • Warren Bennis

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In my Happiness Studies Academy lecture with Professor Tal Ben Shahar this week, this quote stuck out in my mind and took me back to my business school reunion.

I mentioned in The Counterintuitive Role of Vulnerability that Harvard Business School Professor Scott Snook’s last lecture would live on through me.  I am keeping that promise!

In that lecture, he shared 5 skills for increasing self awareness:

Five skills (Image courtesy of Grace Ueng)

Joe & Harry: Johari Window

Professor Snook discussed Johari’s Window, a technique created in 1955 by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham to help people better understand their relationship with themselves and others, and then facilitated exercises to help us open up the upper left hand quadrant of our Johari window. Enabling more aspects of ourselves to be known both to ourselves and to others leads to our becoming happier.  When the sharing is reciprocated, teams work better together. 

Image courtesy of Grace Ueng

Thoughtful new leaders often go on “listening” tours to kick off their tenure as they know a very important part of their role is to allow their employees at all levels to be seen and heard. By creating psychological safety so that anxiety is minimized, individuals will open up and share.

The Power of 360s

360 degree feedback has been used for decades by companies because it works. According to Forbes, 85% of Fortune 500 companies use 360 feedback. When I engage in a coaching program with a leader, I almost always conduct a 360 with key colleagues, current and past, and may even include a spouse. I work with the leader to choose who should be interviewed by me, have them reach out personally to their colleagues, asking them to be as candid as possible, as that will help them most. 

I then conduct  in-depth 1 on 1 meetings with these individuals, with a keen mind on creating a safe place for the colleagues to share with me, then synthesize all into my key take-aways.  I then schedule time to present my findings with my coachee and together we put together a personal development plan complete with key accountability steps. Gaining these insights and then creating an intentional plan to strengthen leadership effectiveness informed by these findings has been a game changer for countless clients.

HBR’s What Makes a 360-Degree Review Successful? shows that assessments from 97,617 leaders prove out that for every decile of improvement in overall leadership effectiveness, engagement increases by more than five percentile points.  Knowing thyself can indeed be powerful!  It helps not only the leader with personal development, it also helps team dynamics improve and peer relationships become stronger.

Sam: New Leader at Fortune 500 Company

Sam contacted me when he was promoted into his first leadership role at a well regarded Fortune 500 company. He wanted to partner with a coach to ensure in the short-term a smooth transition into his new role and in the longer-term to be on the right track to become a divisional general manager. 

His 360 revealed several blind spots. One of the top 3 was how he communicated as well as how he listened, and that he could be more collaborative with global key stakeholders especially during times of stress. He learned about the importance of paying full attention and actively listening. He made respectful communication a top area of focus in order to improve his team’s outcomes.  

A second top blind spot Sam learned from his 360, was that his team wanted him to lead more from his “why” rather than his “what.”  He realized the power of purpose and therefore the importance of a strong and authentic personal mission statement. We worked together to create his “why,” which became “activating impact in others.”

His third top blind spot was that he could be too hands-on and make decisions for his people when they should be the ones to own these.  I suggested he “let go to grow.” He kept this top of mind and his people noticed. 

When I close coaching engagements, I have my coaches write a plan going forward that I will hold them accountable. The outcomes of the 360 pave the foundation for this plan going forward. Sam decided to focus on building his personal brand within his company.  Over the years, I’ve created a personal branding framework and workbook I use in my workshops. I asked Sam to complete the workbook for us to discuss. From this came his action plan for his personal branding plan going forward.

360s are not just for People

Over the last two decades, we have conducted hundreds of 360 interviews for companies, that is, discovery with employees: past and present, customers, prospects, lost deals, partners,  prospective partners, board members and other key stakeholders.

Perhaps the most revealing category is lost deals. With one client, we were able to speak to several prospects that chose a competitor.  Learning how they showed up at bake-offs in the mind of the prospect versus key competitors was game changing.  Many changes were made in messaging and sales training.

Customers are of course an important category as well.  The client found out that they come across at times as bureaucratic and not cohesive, and slow at responding. Their product did not seem to offer distinguishable benefits compared to the competition and service seemed to be slipping.  All important takeaways for the client to be aware in order to change.  They thought about what they could say that made them different, and decided that they should highlight that they had the largest installed base of installations and also explain how they had earned this.

Their vision and mission was wordy, not inspiring and most of the team could not repeat when we asked.  In a strategy session we facilitated, the client crafted their new “why” – short, catchy, and now repeated easily by all of them. And now all supporting messages feed back up to the vision and mission. Simplicity and consistency has helped them to communicate more clearly with their prospects and helped return the business to profitability.

Common Sense?

Knowing yourself and your business well is critical for success.  Sounds like common sense.  

Common sense is not that common.”

  • Voltaire

Think through what you will do in the weeks to come to uncover a few of your blind spots in order to become uncommon.

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003.  Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” are what clients value most.  

Grace’s core offerings are one on one coaching for CEOs and their leadership teams, facilitating workshops on Personal Branding and Speaking Success and conducting strategic reviews for companies at a critical juncture. A TED speaker, she is hired to give keynotes and lead corporate and higher education Happiness Works® programs.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain & Company and then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School and holds a positive coaching certification from the Whole Being Institute.

Grace and her partner, Rich Chleboski, a cleantech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity.