There really aren’t two types of people in the world. Everyone, rather, is two types of people: the person they are and the person they show to the public eye.
After spending 15 years in the corporate world before starting her leadership consulting practice, Sara Canaday and Associates, Sara Canaday noticed a lot of people were running into the same obstacle that was pulling down their potential: themselves.
“At least 50% of people do things to hold them back,” she said. “There are a lot of bright people who can’t get ahead.”
Canaday had been striving to climb the corporate ladder through education and experience. She earned her MBA from the University of Incarnate Word in 1993 while working full-time and became vice president of account services for Texas Mutual Insurance. But it wasn’t until 2002 when she started leadership consulting that she began to formulate her theories on why many professionals were selling themselves short.
She calls these theories “blind spots.” She said society has been convinced that their potential is based on their grades, credentials, degrees, and production – like who will be the first to create 100 widgets?
“People underestimate their style, approach, attributes, and who they are,” she said. “It should be based on how we can get results from and through others. They underestimate how those things play an impact.”
Canaday took her theories to paper and penned her book You – According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career in hopes that the world’s professionals will better understand themselves and how they are perceived, and then retweak their blind spots.
“It’s as much mental as it is physical,” she said.
According to Heather Hiles, it may be more technological. The Pathbrite CEO and Yale University MBA graduate said she’s talked to hundreds of employers who have told her they’re interested in more than what they can see in a resume. The lack of transparency offered in a Word doc resume is what transpired the idea behind Pathbrite, a company enabling users to create interactive timelines of themselves from business to personal perspectives.
“Employers get one dimension in a resume and one dimension in an interview, but they still don’t get the behavior,” Hiles said.
She offered a personal example of when she hired someone who hadn’t written his own writing sample. She didn’t know this at the time of his hiring and she said she spent the next six months encouraging him to work on his writing, something he was reluctant to do. She lost a lot of time and plenty of money on a hire that could have been avoided.
She said employers miss a lot of blind spots by only looking at someone in a snap shot resume.
So what are the blind spots that hold professionals back from tapping into their full potential? Canaday said it’s a whole list of things that can only be nailed down individually.
“It’s not always because they’re just jerks,” she said. “Sometimes they think it is expected of them or it serves them.”
It explains some people’s behavior although it definitely doesn’t excuse it. But Canaday made a very valid point when she said newcomers and other business professionals don’t know whether to stand out or fit in. There’s a catch 22 on the path to get ahead.
“It’s a constant challenge because we’re not sure what to do,” she said.
Hiles added that it’s this confusion that makes it even more difficult for employers or administrators to find the right fit for their company. She said it also boils down to both parties finding the right fit.
“The personality is a very important aspect of fitting with a certain company,” she said. “It’s very important to understand the environment you can excel in or which will stifle you. We all have unique assets, skills, and downsides.”
Hiles said one of the biggest aspects she looks for is how people are able to apply what they know and how they learn. She watches how people figure things out and pave their own path to success.
“How much initiative do they have?” she asked. “You can tell a lot about that in a portfolio. Do they sit back and wait to be asked to do something or do they do what needs to be done without being asked? I think it’s those kinds of characteristics employers are looking for.”
Although advancing in a career is based on production and how well someone works with others, Canaday admitted that education and credentials do play a big role in employers’ job selections.
“Having an MBA does give you some edge because the competition is so fierce,” she said. “From a commitment perspective, people make positive assumptions about MBA students. Those credentials give a person a better opportunity to showcase their abilities. The judgment is more subjective than objective.”
She began writing her book while coaching MBA students at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business MBA Plus Program and created case studies and identified nine “syndromes” people struggle with. These “syndromes,” or blind spots, are habits which have been developed over a lifetime.
“These blind spots are very subtle, but can have a huge impact on how we’re perceived,” she said. “Small changes can cause a major improvement. To do something different takes time – like retraining a habit. It takes consistent, constant work. No one ever becomes fully self-aware. It’s a life-long process. To this day, I’m still working on stuff.”
Follow Dustin Bass on Twitter @dbass_cmn.