How to Make a Success of it

“Matrix Management: not a structure, a frame of mind.”  SUMANTRA GHOSHAL
Windows onto many departments

In a Matrix Structure people have two, or more, upward reporting lines i.e. they’ve two bosses, who each represent a different business dimension; such as product, region, customer, capability, or function.

For example, a Marketing Manager might have a boss for their geographical region (e.g. the UK) and a second boss who is responsible for the product they are promoting. An HR Manager might report to the Global Head of HR and the CEO of the business unit they are supporting. An Engineer might be assigned to work full time on a specific project, reporting to the Project Manager and also simultaneously reporting to the VP of Engineering.

Why have a matrix?

The matrix structure is usually a response to corporate silos and the communication problems they can create; the goal is to make the organisation more responsive to customers, and to use resources more efficiently.

As such, they have been used for some time. E.g. Phillips, the Dutch multinational electronics company set up a matrix structure in the 1950’s. It had national organisations (NOs) and product divisions (PDs). The network was held together by a number of coordinating committees, which resolved any conflict between the two.

The matrix system continues to be a popular organisational model. For example, in Revisiting the Matrix Organisation, by McKinsey (2016) the authors state that, in a survey of 4,000 US companies, 84% of respondents reported having matrix structures as part of their organisational design, with 17% of those organisations being classified as very highly matrixed (multiple teams and multiple managers).

What could possibly go wrong?

As noted above, matrix structures initially came about in response to an increasingly changeable, dynamic business environment, where information needed to be shared more widely and corporations needed to be closer to the customer. So, what ‘difficulties’ should senior executives be aware of if they are considering adopting this model?

It turns out that there are three big problems that need to be overcome:

  1. Performing in the face of competing goals or role ambiguity
    Dual reporting lines can lead to conflict and confusion – with at least two bosses to please the question arises regarding whose priorities should take precedence? And, with two or more ‘masters’ giving instructions, how is the risk of an employee being assigned too many tasks handled? And what stops people being given contradictory tasks? Also, who specifically is responsible for managing performance and for making sure that the employee gets an appropriate level of training and development?
  2. Dealing with diversity
    In a multinational organisation there is also the challenge of building relationships with bosses and peers from different cultural backgrounds who are oftentimes also in different time zones. It may well be the case that many of these relationships are ‘virtual’; taking place via email, phone calls and Skype with the bare minimum of face to face interaction.
  3. Influencing without authority
    In a matrix it is common to be made accountable for goals but to not have control over the resources needed to achieve them, e.g. key staff may well report to someone else. Also, decision making can be confused and it can be hard to get approval to spend money as there are ‘turf wars’ about things like which P&L should be charged etc.

When matrix’s work

Another question Senior Executives might want to ask themselves is, “How do I get a matrix system working effectively?” Well, all the way back in 1990, Bertlett and Ghosal were arguing that an effective matrix organisation needs to be driven by (i) a clear and consistent corporate vision (ii) hiring, and/or developing people, who can cope with complexity, cultural diversity and can build strong relationships (iii) having processes to help people to develop a collaborative, global mindset – one that helps them to contribute to the corporate vision in practical ways.

Galbraith, J. R. (1939-2014), in Designing Matrix Organizations That Actually Work (2008), suggested that the key to making matrix structures effective is to create a culture that encourages collaboration, co-operation, and team working.

He argued that for a matrix to work the Leadership Team need to prioritise implementing processes for managing conflict and dealing with the ambiguity that having two bosses can so easily create. He advocated doing this using the STAR model…which identified five ‘levers’ for shaping desired behaviour – (i) Strategy (ii) Structure (iii) Process (iv) People and (v) Rewards.

While Vatrappen and Wirtz in their March 2016 HBR article, Making Matrix Organisations Actually Work,
have five guidelines for success:

  1. Adopt when purposeful
    The matrix structure should only be used when (i) there is a major need for middle managers of different teams to coordinate on important business matters on a daily basis and, (ii) the required coordination cannot be achieved adequately through ‘soft-wiring’ e.g. things like advisory committees and task forces.
  2. Keep intrinsic conflict out
    Make sure there are intrinsic reasons for the two dimensions in the matrix (e.g. region and function) to collaborate rather than to compete e.g. don’t let them fight over control of the P&L account.
  3. Limit breadth and depth
    Keep things simple – stick to two organising principles (e.g. product + region or region + function).
  4. Don’t pretend it is not a matrix
    Don’t make a distinction between a dotted and full reporting line, implying that the ‘dotted line’ relationship is of secondary importance. Position the two reporting lines of a matrixed manager as fully balanced (i.e. 50-50).
  5. Escalate by exception only
    A common complaint about a matrix structure is that it increases upward reporting and slows decision making. It is up to the higher levels to refuse unwarranted upward escalation of trade-offs and conflicts.

Weak vs. strong matrix structures

In the context of managing projects companies often either adopt a Project Structure or a Matrix Structure. In a Project Structure, the Project Manager has a team that work full time for them and when the project is completed the team disband. In matrix structures people typically work on projects part time. Matrix Project structures are often described as weak, or strong.

In a ‘weak’ matrix structure a Project Manager acts as an administrator or co-ordinator. The role is essentially to do with the communication and reporting of results (rather than decision making). This structure is also often called a Functional Matrix, because most of the power stays with the supporting functions (e.g. engineering, IT, finance etc.)

In a ‘strong’ matrix structure the Project Manager is directly responsible for the delivery of the project and has decision making authority, including control of the budget. They will liaise with Functional Managers to get the resources they need allocated to the task they need done. Typically, the Project Manager will be allocated full time for the duration of the project.

There is (of course) a hybrid version, where the Project Manager has joint responsibility for the project outcome with the Functional Managers and that’s known as a ‘balanced’ matrix structure.

Which system is ‘best’ is a function of the type of project being undertaken. What is undeniable however, is that to make any of these matrix systems work the Project Manager has to rely not only on their technical expertise but also the ability to influence without authority. So, the political savvy associated with skills like stakeholder analysis, coalition building and negotiation techniques is a key success factor in making these structures work well.

Four key competencies for managing in a matrix

The busy manager struggling to thrive in a matrix system might like to reflect on Sumantra Ghoshal’s comment that “Matrix management is not a structure but a state of mind”, highlights the fact that the ‘soft skills’ of influencing, persuasion, negotiation, diplomacy and (most especially) networking, are at the heart of being effective in this milieu.

Ruth Malloy of Hay Group (HBR August 2012) identifies four key competencies of people who are successful at managing in a matrix…

  1. Empathy: Understanding other people’s perspectives and responding accordingly e.g. what is the customers mindset?
  2. Conflict Management: Resolving disputes calmly
  3. Influencing Skills: Building consensus around a common purpose
  4. Self-awareness: Learning to be patient in the face of complexit

They also point out that their research suggests that these qualities (though eminently trainable) are relatively rare, e.g. they find that only 9% of employees consistently demonstrate self-awareness and just 22% are strong in empathy.

Three things to avoid

In addition, Malloy offers the following ‘three tips’ for people who want to make a success of managing in a matrix…

First, don’t try and solve problems by ‘pulling rank’ – it irritates people and you may well find that given the lack of formal authority in the system it doesn’t work anyway! Opt instead for a collaborative problem-solving approach to resolving issues.

Second, don’t escalate problems to senior management. As with pulling rank it tends to cause irritation and distrust, which makes future collaborations more difficult.

Third, don’t handle sensitive issues by email. Text messages or emails are open to misinterpretation and can easily cause (unintended) offence. Better to make a phone call, Skype call, or – if possible – have a face-to-face meeting.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how you conduct yourself in your matrixed relationships. Are you demonstrating enough empathy? Do you make enough effort to build consensus? What improvements could you make?


Revisiting the matrix organization by Bazigos and Hater of Mckinsey.


Watch… this six-minute clip covering the competencies that people need to be effective in a matrix.
See video clip:


Consider sending your managers on two-day Advanced Influencing Skills course (which looks in detail at a wide range of persuasion strategies that are idea for use in the context of a matrix structure)…

We also have a half-day workshop on Managing in a Matrix that is a great way of ensuring consistency in dealing with the inevitable disagreements that arise within a Matrix Structure.

If you’re a senior executive maybe a ‘one-to-one’ executive coaching session would be a useful option for helping you improve your ability to lead in a Matrixed Organisation

Or gives us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or +44 844 394 8877 (International) or email us at and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And remember… in the end successful matrix management is as much about developing good relationships as devising good structures…

“If we are going to live with our deepest differences then we must learn about one another.”

“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” ANITA RODDICK

Ladies and gentlemen… your attention please.

Aristotle statue, Stageira, Greece. ©
Aristotle statue, Stageira, Greece.

Impact, Charisma and Presence are essential qualities in a Senior Executive. If a leader wants to influence peers, enthuse employees, inspire confidence in regulators and officials it is vital that they express themselves fully and with a sense of conviction. Presence, then, is a key attribute that effective leaders possess; one that enables them to motivate others. The dictionary defines ‘Presence’ as…

  • The state of being closely focused on the here and now, not distracted by irrelevant thoughts
  • A quality of poise that enables a person to achieve a close relationship with an audience

So Impact and Presence is about paying full attention to, and connecting with, the feelings of other people in order to inspire them to take a given action. And once you’ve got a ‘connection’ it’s about voicing an opinion, that’s based on logic and analysis, in a clear, concise, and compelling manner.

And, as with so many other qualities, it is a skill that can be learned.

Learning from the past

Research into leadership qualities has a long history. The ancient Greeks highly valued public speaking and over 2,000 years ago Aristotle identified “the three persuasive appeals” that combine together to make a powerful argument that inspires people to act. They are:

  1. Ethos: being credible as a speaker
    (e.g. being thought of as trustworthy and knowledgeable)
  2. Pathos: building emotional connection to the audience through establishing common ground or linking to key values
  3. Logos: having logical argument supported by data, facts and analysis

Much of what is taught today in respect of presence goes back to these writings on rhetoric (or the art of persuasion) by the ancient Greeks.

For example, in their June 2012 HBR article Antonkis, Fenley and Leichti on Learning Charisma, note that while leaders can pressure people to do as they ask because they have the power to reward or punish employees, it is the ability to demonstrate charismatic leadership that really inspires people to give of their best. They go on to highlight twelve ancient rhetorical techniques as being especially powerful for modern leaders. These include…

Rhetorical Questions to engage people e.g. “So, what does good performance look like?”

Expressing Moral Conviction (setting standards for right or just behaviour) e.g. “This quality problem is damaging our relationships with our customers, it’s our issue to resolve and we need to take ownership for fixing it as a group.”

Reflecting the Group’s/Audience’s Sentiments – even when they are negative – as they show empathy and help the group to ‘connect’ with the speaker e.g. “I know how disappointed and upset you are about this decision… it is a bitter pill to swallow after all your hard work…”

Setting Challenging Goals – giving people a clear, compelling objective to focus on e.g. “this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon”, John. F. Kennedy (May 1961).

Learning from the present

Moving on to the 21st century recent research at Cambridge University (‘Social Networks and Leader Charisma’) demonstrates that leaders who are regarded as charismatic by their teams will have a high-performing group. So, impact and presence does affect team performance. They also note that being charismatic in this context is primarily about; “becoming an expert (i.e. ‘ethos’) plus soliciting advice from people, and treating people with consideration” (i.e. pathos), highlighting that both ethos and pathos are vital components of developing great teams.

A study published in the Journal of Behavioural studies (September 2014) analysed the attributes of a cross section of Charismatic Leaders (all US based) and identified the following attributes associated with making an impact…

  • Being Genuine: talking from the heart, being sincere and honest (and consistent)
  • Meeting Expectations: dressing appropriately, looking fit and heathy
  • Working the room: connecting with audience or group members before the formal talk/meeting starts. This involves shaking hands with people, making small talk, picking up on the mood of the group etc.
  • Reading the Room: observing people’s reactions to what’s being said during the actual meeting or talk and adjusting behaviour accordingly, in ‘real time’
  • Using humour to connect with an audience
  • Storytelling

Storytelling was seen as particularly important as it made messages memorable and easy to digest. Also, stories that involve (or relate to) members of the group are a powerful way of forging a connection between the leader and the team.

Getting the body language right – Communicate like Clinton?

Positive body language is a key aspect of demonstrating charisma; especially adopting an upright, relaxed posture, coupled with steady eye contact and a warm smile.

Michael Ellsberg, author of The Power of Eye Contact argues that exuding presence has a lot to do with the number of behaviours a person employs when communicating their message. So ex US President Bill Clinton, for example, when meeting someone makes eye contact and smiles and touches their hand or upper arm and raises his voice slightly, to communicate his message in a powerful way.

A voice of your own?

Part of having presence is to be able to use your voice to communicate emotion to the listener and so motivate them to action e.g. by signalling things like urgency, seriousness, happiness, surprise, caution (and sometimes anger). Also, to use voice energy to capture their attention by varying the volume from a stage whisper, to a clear, controlled statement of the facts and on to a commanding call for action!

Patsy Rodenburg (the world-renowned acting coach) emphasises the power of a strong voice, breathing exercises and mental focus to project energy and connect with people. In her book, The Second Circle: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation, she explains how to find and release tensions and project your voice to engage with the listener.

Leadership presence – acting the part

In their book Leadership Presence Halpern and Lubar (like Rodenburg) make a link between what is required of a top performing senior executive and the actor’s craft. They note that actors don’t expect to be ‘born’ with charisma but train, using specific ‘drills’, to be able to capture an audience’s attention and to have people focus completely on them.

Of course leaders have many skills that actors don’t e.g. they understand corporate strategy and markets and can negotiate effectively but the need to ‘connect’ with others is a common thread between the two worlds. For example they argue that the only way to elicit emotion and/or a given level of energy from a work group is to actually express that level of emotion or energy personally. They suggest using a technique known as ‘emotional memory’ to be able to project emotions in an appropriate and positive way.

Also, a good performance based on a poor script doesn’t impress anyone: presence captures people’s attention and gets them to take the speaker seriously, but the content of the message must also be compelling. So effective leaders don’t only make their point with energy and conviction (pathos), they also have something to say that is worth listening to (logos).

Six key lessons about Presence

Looking at the research we can highlight six fundamental aspects of developing a strong presence:

  1. Stand up straight, make eye contact and smile (a genuine smile).
  2. Put energy into your voice and breathe fully.
  3. Be interested in other people and what they have to say to you.
  4. Develop a logical proposition or argument to put forward (and script and rehearse what you want to say).
  5. Make what you say relevant to the other person’s situation. (How are you helping to ‘solve their problem or address their issues?’)
  6. Pay attention to the other person’s body language and adjust what you are doing in the light of how you see them reacting.

So what’s next?

Reflect on how much you really listen to other people when you talk with them. Make a determined effort to give them your undivided attention.

Consider what your body language says about you. What messages are you (unconsciously) transmitting through your posture or your use of gestures? Focus on ‘standing upright’ and relaxing your body as you talk with people.


Try reading, The Power of Presence unlock your potential to influence and engage others by Kristi Hedges (AMACOM, 2011)


Have a look at this YouTube clip (15 minutes) on Making A Positive First Impression by Olivia Fox Cabane, author of the Charisma Myth


Take a look at our intensive two day in-house programme on Impact and Presence (an intensive training course for a maximum of six delegates per programme)


Or maybe review our ‘One to One’ executive coaching services to get some personal guidance on developing your personal impact.


Download this article as a pdf


Give us a call on 0844 394 8877 (UK) or +44 1788 475 877 (international) or email us at and we’ll be happy to discuss how we can work with you.

And we end with a quote about the well-known Shakespearean characters in Julius Caesar

“When Brutus spoke the crowd cheered; but when Antony spoke they marched.”


“There’s nowt so queer as folk.” – old English proverb
collaborating with difficult people

Coping with an awkward squad

Some people we like and some we don’t. Similarly, there are some people (hopefully not too many) who don’t care too much for us. Sometimes we find people behave badly towards us and sometimes (hopefully not too often) we are less than courteous in our treatment of others. In a world that is populated with people of many and varied values, goals, cultural backgrounds, attitudes and life experiences that’s to be expected. If we can simply avoid these difficult people and the uncomfortable or unpleasant situations they create, all well and good. But sometimes we can’t ignore them. They might be an important client, or a colleague, or a manager, or our partner’s parents, and then we have to find ways of getting along with them.

Knowing me; knowing you (aha)

The cornerstone of dealing with people in general (and people we find difficult or challenging in particular) is empathy i.e. the ability to share another person’s feelings, as if they were your own.

With the exception of psychopaths, humans are born with an in-built capacity for empathy, and that’s reflected in the ability to mirror behaviour. For example, when a baby cries, another baby will cry: when a baby yawns, another baby will yawn. As we develop, we get much more complex understandings of how to ‘put ourselves’ in someone else’s shoes and imagine their experiences. Research with jurors in the US, however, shows that the natural tendency is to be more empathic towards those who look or act like us. So that can lead to unfair treatment where the accused seems too ‘different’ from those who are judging them.

A key attribute of using empathy really effectively then is to be able to get a sense of how someone from a background different to our own might think and feel. Of course, ‘understanding’ someone’s feelings is not the same as agreeing with them. It’s entirely possible to fully appreciate someone’s point of view and think them wrong, or misguided, or maybe even malicious. But ‘understanding’ is the first step to be able to take meaningful action. And sometime the act of understanding is enough, in and of itself, to improve a situation.  So, we begin addressing any awkward person, or difficult situation, by thinking about what’s driving their behaviour; because for sure, in their mind, what they are doing makes perfect sense.  And once we have an insight into their motivation we can have some ideas about how to respond effectively to them.

See people not bodies

Rick Hanson the neuropsychologist and author has an interesting view on developing empathy, which can be useful in the setting of having to collaborate with a difficult person.

He argues that when we encounter someone, usually the mind automatically slots the person into a category: man, woman, your friend Tom, etc. 
In effect, the mind summarises and simplifies many details into a single thing – a human thing to be sure, but one with an umbrella label that makes it easy to know how to act. For example: “Oh, that’s my boss (or mother-in-law, or boyfriend, or waiter) . . . and now I know what to do.”

This labelling process is fast, efficient, and gets to the essentials, but this categorising has lots of problems. It fixes attention on surface features of the person’s body, such as age, gender, attractiveness, or role. It leads to objectifying others (e.g., the ‘pretty woman’, the ‘authority figure’) rather than respecting their humanity. It tricks us into thinking that a person comprised of changing complexities is a static unified entity. It’s easier to feel threatened by, or blame, or ignore someone you’ve labelled as this or that.

So, Hanson suggests that when you talk with someone (maybe someone from another department you are collaborating with), be aware of the many things they are, such as: son, brother, father, uncle, fisherman, donor to charity, reader of detective novels, etc. etc. Recognise some of the many thoughts, feelings, and reactions swirling around in the mind of the other person. Knowing the complexity of your own mind, try to imagine some of the many bubbling-up contents in their stream of consciousness. Being aware of your own changes – alert one moment and sleepy another, nervous now and calm later, perhaps you can see changes happening in the other person. This helps to develop a greater understanding of the other person and to encourage a more balanced and calmer way of interacting with them. As Hanson says, “the more significant the relationship, the more it helps to see beings, not bodies.”

The art of Non-Violent Communication

The psychologist, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (1934-2015) developed the idea of Non-Violent Communication in the 1960’s.

His approach was to not try and get your own way when faced with a challenging conversation.  And also, to not treat people as ‘enemies’ or ‘competitors’ and to avoid making judgements or attributing blame. Instead he said to ‘Identify your Needs’ or desires, and also uncover their underlying needs e.g. acceptance, security, consistency, integrity, effectiveness etc.

So, he encouraged people to ask themselves (and the other party) “what do I/you need or value in this situation…?”

E.g. Identify your Needs: “I don’t feel I am getting the information I need to be comfortable that the project is on track. I need more data and more certainty that the work is going to be completed on time.”

Once the needs are out in the open then it’s important to explicitly acknowledge them (and have them empathically acknowledge your needs in return).

It is then possible to Formulate Requests that will lead to the needs being met. The requests should be firm and clear but not be phrased as a ‘demand’, nor should you use a negative tone, such as sarcasm.

He recommended using the format, “Would you be willing to…” Or “I would like you…” Or, “Would you like it if I…”.

E.g. Formulate Requests: Would you be willing to email me a weekly update, every Friday morning before 12 o’clock, using these four Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)?

Then it’s a case of Obtaining Feedback e.g. “Is this something you can live with” … “Am I on the right track with this conversation?”

It’s important to understand that this process is a two-way street: both sides’ underlying needs must be uncovered, acknowledged and met.

Collaborative behaviours

The US State Department has published a list of behaviours, based on a review of the research on effective communication behaviours, which they feel drive collaborative working in ‘day to day’ and face to face interactions.

This way of working will also help when dealing with difficult people or challenging conversations. They include:

Pausing: Pausing slows down the discussion and signals to others that their ideas are worth thinking about. It dignifies their contribution, so builds rapport and implicitly encourages future participation. It also, of course, creates time for people to think and that means it’s less likely that someone will blurt out something ‘hurtful’ or ‘unhelpful’.

Summarising: A well-known study by the psychologist Neil Rackham showed that expert communicators summarise twice as often as average ones.  A summary helps members of a team hear and understand each other as they evaluate data and formulate decisions.  It (like pausing) slows the conversation down and checks understanding.  Of course, there is a clear link to demonstrating ’empathy’ here.

Asking questions: Open questions, motivated by curiosity, increase the clarity and precision of a person’s thinking. Interestingly, the Rackham study found that expert communicators ask twice as many questions as average ones.

Putting forward ideas: it is vital that collaborative groups nurture suggestions, as they are the heart of a meaningful discussion. Of course, this can be done in line with the principles of non-violent communication e.g. “Would you be willing to…”

Notice your own and other people’s body language:  communication is generally ‘smoother’ when someone is not only aware of what he or she is saying, but also how it is said (i.e. tone of voice) and how others are responding to it. This ties in with the non-violent communication concepts of not blaming or judging people.

Balancing advocacy and inquiry: Both inquiry (asking questions) and advocacy (making proposals) are necessary components of collaborative work. Inquiry provides for greater understanding. Advocacy leads to decision-making. A common mistake is to bring premature closure to problem identification (inquiry for understanding) and rush into problem resolution (advocacy for a specific remedy or solution).  So again (to link with the ideas of non-violent communication) be sure to take the time to really uncover what the underlying needs or desires are in any given situation.

So what’s next?

Think about past collaborations you have been involved in that meant you had to engage with difficult people. For the ones that turned out well think about why things ended up being OK. For the ones that went badly, think about why they went badly. As you reflect on the two experiences, what does that suggest to you about how you can improve your collaborative efforts going forward?

Try reading: this thoughtful article on the nature of empathy by Seung Chan Lim…

Have a look at Dr. Marshall Rosenberg talking about non-violent communication on You Tube. (10 minutes)

If you think that you or your work team could benefit from our help then take a look at our in-house half-day, master class on Self Awareness & Effective Team Work…

Or perhaps think about some ‘one to one’ executive coaching to help develop your ability to deal with difficult people or situations….

And to end with a useful piece of advice on dealing with people (difficult or otherwise) from the management guru Stephen Covey;

“Seek first to understand and then to be understood”

“O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.” Robert Burns
face in the mirror

Self-awareness Vs. sleep walking

It is very easy to live life on ‘auto pilot’ without really stopping to think about what is driving our behaviour and motivating our actions. This is especially true when the pace of life is hectic and there are many demands on our time and attention. This can have unfortunate consequences for people in all walks of life. Margaret Thatcher (the UK Prime Minister) had a very effective style, for a while, but when it all started to go wrong she thought that she needed to be more like herself, when in fact the opposite was required. This capacity for ‘self-awareness’ is emphasised in “True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership”, by Harvard Professor Bill George, which highlights the importance of ‘knowing your true self’, if you are going to be a good leader.

Self-awareness from the outside in

One popular way of gaining insights into our automatic, or default, patterns of behaviours is to take psychometric inventory that help us to analyse our innermost motivations. There are literally thousands of published psychometric inventories, of widely varying degrees of validity. The most popular inventory, is probably the “Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)” assessment, with over two million tests administered each year. Sadly, it’s a very poorly designed test; you can view a video about its origins here…

My personal preference when using psychometric inventories to develop self-awareness, however, is for the “Strength Deployment Inventory” developed by the US psychologist, clinical therapist, educator and author Elias H. Porter, Ph.D. A very robust instrument, the SDI helps people to recognise that they can choose their behaviours to accommodate their underlying ‘core’ values, while also taking into account the values of others’ (which can be quite different from their own.) www.personalstrengthsuk/

The SDI assess personality against four core values. People are a mix of all four ‘orientations’ and these fundamental motivations can drive a very wide range of individual behaviours. In a highly simplified form the four values are: Altruism (a desire to help others), Directing (having a strong focus on goals), Analytical (a preference for making careful assessments) and Cohering (a focus on team work and group dynamics).

When developing self-awareness using psychometrics in leadership teams, it is common for consultants to select the “Hogan Leadership Series” developed by Dr Robert & Dr Joyce Hogan, which has been evolving since the 1970’s. The Hogan Series of inventories contains three sets of analysis: the “bright side”, positive qualities necessary for success (e.g. tact, perceptiveness, initiative); the “dark side”, covering potential barriers or de-railers to success (e.g. arrogance, moodiness, stubbornness); and the “inside”, the internal drivers that motivate behaviour (e.g. wanting to help others, seeking out social interaction etc.) It has been taken by several millions of people in over 12 countries. The British Psychological Society awarded it the highest accolade for test development. The Hogan web site is: (and we offer the Hogan assessment and feedback as part of our coaching services… )


Another popular approach to get a sense of how others see us is 360-degree feedback, where the opinion of colleagues and peers is used to highlight their perception of our strengths and weaknesses. While this can be a valuable exercise, completing it successfully is fraught with difficulties e.g. all employees are treated equally, so the views of top performing employees have the same weight as those of low performers, who may give a low score because they don’t like their manager pushing them to improve. Or employees may mark a manager they like personally higher than they deserve (or vice versa); the same may be true if they fear that the feedback isn’t anonymous. Also, many surveys don’t ask for suggested ‘solutions’ to perceived behavioural ‘problems’, so how specifically the person at the centre of the 360 should change their ways might not be obvious etc.

Self-awareness from the inside out

Another possibility is analysing our past in order to uncover deep motivation patterns that affect us in the present. This ‘personal history’ analysis simply involves looking at some key facts from the past, and thinking about their current impact on our daily life by asking four key questions…

  1. What are three significant facts about your upbringing?
  2. What are three ways that your personal history positively affects you today?
  3. What are three ways that your personal history negatively affects you today?
  4. What can you do to escape from the negative aspects of your personal history?

The key to this deceptively simple exercise, which can be surprisingly powerful and sometimes ‘unsettling’, is to write down the answers to the four questions. The act of writing down the answers helps with processing emotions and makes it easier to consider the issues being raised in an objective manner.

Avoiding Junk Logic

A common cause of personal problems associated with a lack of self-awareness, is negative, irrational thinking patterns (also called ‘junk logic’.) According to Albert Ellis (founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy) there are four types of irrational beliefs that inhibit the ability to act in a constructive way, which he explores in his book “How to Make Yourself Happy and Remarkably Less Disturbed.”

The four types of junk logic are…

  1. Demands – believing that things have to be a particular way. This causes problems because it is not usually possible to control other people or the way they are. For example, thinking that “everyone must like me at all times”” is a recipe for distress as it is simply not possible to be liked by all of the people all of the time. A more rational thought would be; “I want people to like me and I will treat people well, but if occasionally someone doesn’t like me, that is their choice and I feel OK about it.”
  2. Avoiding responsibility – placing the responsibility for things going wrong onto another person. An example of this would be the person who says, “you make me angry”, or “you will make me angry if you talk to me about (x)”, whereas, of course, the person has the responsibility to choose their actions, and we have the responsibility to choose our response.
  3. Over Generalisations – thinking that the occurrence of one event will mean that things will always be a particular way. So in this case one swallow does make a summer. Unwarranted generalisations lead to feelings of frustration, worry and helplessness.
  4. Catastrophisation – thinking that some event is awful or disastrous, leading to anxiety and despair e.g. “I will die of embarrassment if I have to give a presentation”.

Hurry up and be perfect

Eric Berne, the Canadian psychiatrist and developer of the Transactional Analysis School of Psychology, proposed that in childhood there are certain messages or ‘drivers’ that are often transmitted to children via their environment and how they are treated. These ‘drivers’ then influence how people behave as adults. Each ‘driver’ can have certain strengths, but also potential weaknesses associated with them. Due to this, when a ‘driver’ is unacknowledged, in later life it can cause relationship problems. So for example, if someone became aware that they always felt the need for urgency, or to ‘Hurry Up’, one corrective action would be to consciously make the effort to ‘take their time’ over some task or activity. The five key ‘drivers’ are…

  1. Be perfect! Positive Aspect: valuing accuracy, tidiness and maintaining high standards. Negative Aspect: feeling dissatisfied because you can never be quiet good enough, finding it hard to delegate or trust others to do things correctly.
  2. Be Strong! Positive Aspect: making things happen, taking control of situations, not being overly emotional, or dependent on others. Negative Aspect: being seen as aloof, distant and getting overwhelmed by refusing to ask for help when it’s needed.
  3. Try Hard! Positive Aspect: working hard, a willingness to take on new things. Negative Aspect: taking on more than you can cope with, getting sidetracked and so frustrating other people when you don’t get things done on time.
  4. Please others! Positive Aspect: being friendly, supportive and easy to get along with, a good team player. Negative Aspect: finding it hard to say no, even to unfair requests and downplaying your own needs
  5. Hurry Up! Positive Aspect: working fast, being efficient and getting things done quickly. Negative Aspect: leaving things until the last minute, appearing impatient, being unrealistic about timelines and so having to continually ‘rush’ to get things done.

Self-awareness and energy management

Schwattz and McCarthy ague in their October 2007 HBR article, “Manage Your Energy not Your Time” ( that many ‘problems’ and stress reactions can be attributed to people being unaware of how they manage their energy. Gaining an insight into how energy is being managed (or mismanaged) is, for them, the key to being effective.

They identify four classes of energy that need to be consciously managed:

  1. Physical energy
  2. Emotional energy
  3. Mental energy
  4. Spiritual energy

They recommend that people develop specific daily ‘rituals’ that create a sense of ‘renewal’ throughout the day, for each of the four categories. For example, Physical Energy could be developed by making a habit of going to bed early, exercising each morning (as soon as you get up), going for a short walk each lunchtime etc. Emotional Energy can be improved by deliberately expressing appreciation of others e.g. saying thank you, sending a congratulatory email etc. They argue that praising or acknowledging other people’s efforts causes productivity to increase, stress to be reduced and enthusiasm to be generated.

Looking through Johari’s Window

“The Johari Window” model was devised by American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955, while researching group dynamics at the University of California Los Angeles. The name comes from a combination of their first names (Joseph and Harry.) The model asks that people assess their thoughts and feelings in relation to four ‘regions’ or areas:

  1. The Open Area: what is known by the person about him/herself and is also known by others
  2. The Blind Spot: what is unknown by the person about him/herself, but which others know
  3. The Hidden Area: what the person knows about him/herself that others do not know
  4. The Unknown Area: what is unknown by the person about him/herself and is also unknown by others

Of course in team work situations one aim of the window is to increase productivity by working to get people to know each other better, and so increase the size of the “Open Area”.

Blind Spots (e.g. not realizing that other people see you as (say) indecisive) can be addressed by seeking feedback from others.

The Hidden Area consists of dreams, desires, fears, preferences, secrets etc. that we keep to ourselves. While some of this hidden information is ‘sensitive’ and is best kept private, a lot of it isn’t especially personal and we can achieve better relationships with others by moving it into the “Open Area”, through well-judged ‘disclosure’ i.e. telling people what’s on your mind.

The Unknown Area is a thing that neither the person or those that know them are aware of e.g. a hidden talent – as in an ability or skill that no-one knows they have because the situation where it might be relevant has never arisen, or an experience they might enjoy but haven’t tried yet e.g. a type of food, or maybe a pastime etc. On the ‘dark side’ this area could also include memories of traumatic events that have been repressed. Exploring this area involves embarking on self-discovery through reflection, or experimenting with new experiences.

So what’s next???

Developing self-awareness means accepting those parts of you and your behaviour that usually remain hidden. It also involves being honest about personal limitations and areas of weakness. Self-awareness, however, also means highlighting those situations where you are most effective, assists with decision-making, boosts motivation and is the key to personal growth and leadership development. So consider:

Trying an online version of the Cattell 16PF test to get some feedback on your preferred approach to situations.

Experimenting with an online version of the Johari Window, 360 feedback exercise. A classic and elegant awareness tool first developed in 1955.

Reading, “The Self Esteem Workbook” by Glenn R. Schiraldi if you want to explore this area in detail and have access to a number of ‘self development’ tools.

If you think that you or your work team could benefit from our help then take a look at our half-day, in-house Self-Awareness & Teamwork workshop using the SDI …

Or maybe our ‘one to one’ executive coaching services, for one of our experts to take you through the Hogan Leadership Questionnaire

Consider Sun Tzu’s famous quote from the Art of War

“If you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles.”