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close this bookManagement Self-Development - A Guide for Managers, Organisations and Institutions (ILO, 1985, 282 p.)
close this folderChapter 2. Self-assessment and planning one's own future
View the document(introduction...)
View the document2.1 The self-assessment process
View the document2.2 Our higher and lower selves
View the document2.3 Obtaining information about yourself and your performance
View the document2.4 Clarifying the questions and issues facing you
View the document2.5 A self-development plan
View the document2.6 Suggestions for further reading


This chapter concentrates on a number of ways of assessing yourself, as a way of deciding in what ways you want to develop.

However, although self-assessment certainly can provide a most useful first step in your self-development, it is not absolutely essential. Each of us develops anyway, as part of our general life process.

So if you do not yet want to carry out any formal self-assessment, you can still go ahead and accelerate your self-development. You can use some of the methods of chapters 3 to 8 (after all, they are still there, whether or not you have assessed yourself); choose some that appeal to you, or at random. Or do a "mini assessment" by looking through the list of probable outcomes of methods (tables 3 and 4) and select one of those.

You can also concentrate on those activities that are particularly useful in helping you learn to develop from everyday experiences. These will then enable you to make the most out of the developmental opportunities that arise from day to day.

On the other hand, if you would like to have a go at systematic self-assessment, then this chapter can certainly help you.

2.1 The self-assessment process

Self-assessment compared with assessment by others

To some extent we are always assessing ourselves. Every time you feel pleased with something you have done - or dissatisfied with it - then you are in a way assessing yourself.

Often, however, that is as far as it goes. In other words, you do not do anything as a result of your feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction. At the same time, the whole process is a bit "hit and miss"; sometimes you are aware how much or how little you have achieved, sometimes you do not notice - or, perhaps, you choose not to notice!

Often, of course, you are forced to look at your performance, or rather someone else forces you. This is usually your boss who, no doubt, from time to time gives you feedback - tells you what he or she thinks of what you have done. Unfortunately, it almost seems a basic human principle that we are much more ready to give negative feedback and adverse criticism than we are to give thanks and praise. Perhaps you should bear this in mind when giving feedback to your subordinates.

Assessment by others - usually your boss - is therefore quite common. There are, however, some very important differences between this and self-assessment. In a sense, they start in the same way with feedback of information. That is, information about you and what you are doing. The difference lies more in the next step.

In conventional assessment, the other person not only gives you the information, but then tells you what to do with it. He or she not only tells you what they think of what you have done, but they also tell you how you must improve, what steps you must now take, what you must do. This is really very much assessment by others.

There is, of course, the approach known as management by objectives (MBO). In theory, this involves you and your boss in a joint negotiation about what you should do, and can therefore be said to be a step towards self-assessment. However, in practice this rarely seems to work out as planned and MBO usually regresses to being a slightly more systematic form of assessment by others.

True self-assessment again starts with you receiving information. This means relatively factual feedback about what you have done, and what has happened as a result. It does not include judgements about what you should have done, or what you ought to do now. So the nature of the information you are getting is different. There are a number of sources of this, some of which are shown in figure 6.

Obviously, other people - including your boss, perhaps - provide one important source of feedback. However, the difference is in what happens with the information. In the case of self-assessment, you decide for yourself what the feedback means, you make your own judgements about yourself, you decide for yourself what to try to change or improve. In all these, you examine what you yourself think, feel and want to do, to refer back to the three inner processes discussed in chapter 1.

However, this is not to say that you ignore other people. Of course not. As has already been mentioned several times, one or more others can be very helpful in discussing things with you, sharing their ideas and experiences, helping you to think about the advantages and disadvantages of your proposed actions. However, in all this they should be helping you to make up your own mind; they should not be giving advice, or instructions, unlike with conventional assessment.

It is not easy to be helpful in this non-directive way; it requires considerable skill. Since you are likely at times to be acting in this role with your colleagues or subordinates, some notes about it are included in chapter 8 under "Working with a speaking partner".

At the same time, you do not live in total isolation from other people and it would therefore be wrong to take no account whatsoever of their feelings and wishes. This would be both selfish and foolish. We will return to this later in this chapter. In the meantime, table 2 summarises some of the important differences between assessment by others and self-assessment.

Table 2. Self-assessment compared with assessment by others




Source of feedback information about yourself and your performance.

Other people - especially your boss.

As in figure 6, namely

· a range of other people

· your own analysis of things that happen ("critical incidents")

· other means of self-analysis

· analysis of your whole life, its themes, meaning and purpose ("biography").

Type of feedback information.

Factual and judgemental, with advice and instructions.

Factual, non-judgemental; no advice, no instructions.

Who then decides what the information means, what should be done as a result.

Other people - especially your boss.


Role of others.

Source of information, judgement, advice and instruction.

Source of information.

· Help you to reflect on information and to decide what to do with it.

· Their thinking, feeling and willing to be considered by you when you make your decisions as to what to do.


Formally: infrequent, often once a year.
Informally: when they feel like it (often when they are displeased with you).

When you are ready.
Hopefully, a continuous process.

It will be seen that table 2 also includes a timing factor. Assessment by others is done when they want to - usually either when they are unhappy or dissatisfied with what you have done (informally) or, more formally, at some sort of annual appraisal. Self-assessment, on the other hand, is for when you are ready. It is up to you to decide when to seek feedback, when to analyse your experiences.

Some of the methods of self-assessment described in this chapter and in the appendices tend to be suitable for doing just once, or fairly infrequently. This is particularly true of the questionnaires - although you might find it interesting and helpful to do them again from time to time to see if any differences emerge.

Other methods, especially feedback from others and analysis of critical incidents, can be done often and help you be assess yourself more or less continuously.

In this chapter the various stages in assessing yourself have been explained very systematically. This may give you the impression that the whole thing is a very mechanical process. However, it is important to realise that this need not be the case. As you become skilled at this sort of thing, the separate steps will tend to merge, and again self-assessment will become more continuous, or continuing. Instead of technique, it will become a way of thinking, a way of approaching life.

So, if you like systematic, step-by-step instructions, that is fine. If not, please be tolerant!

Stages in the self-assessment process

Figure 6 presents a summary of the self-assessment process. We will shortly look at each part of this process, but it will be helpful to start with a quick survey.

Figure 6. The self-assessment process

As has already been discussed, the process starts with you receiving information about yourself and your performance, from various sources. Receiving, collecting and analysing this information leads to an awareness of the main questions and issues facing you.

Thinking about these questions and issues, often with the help (but not direction) of somebody else, leads you to come up with some possible alternative courses of action: what might you do next? How might you do it?

Each of these possible alternatives can now be evaluated - that is, by examining their consequences, not only for yourself, but for the other people involved. From this, you can make a choice, to which you are committed; this leads, then, to your intentions.

Having quickly surveyed the steps in self-assessment, we will look at each one in a little more detail. Before doing so, however, it will be useful to look at two particular aspects of our inner selves - our higher self and our lower self, as these play a big part in the way we respond to feedback information.

2.2 Our higher and lower selves

Your higher self

In a sense, your higher and lower selves can be said to represent your good and bad qualities. So your higher self - which is part of you - is that part which is honest, courageous, kind, selfless, helpful and so on. It is almost the "angelic" you - so that, at times, we will refer to it as your "angel", which sounds more friendly than "higher self".

Although we all have a higher self, surprisingly, perhaps, many people have difficulty in recognising theirs. These people just cannot see what is good within them. They appear unaware of their strengths and of their lovable features, and if somebody says something nice to them, they become embarrassed, or deny that they have been kind or whatever.

Conversely, other people fall into the trap of self-righteous, proud smugness, and see good qualities in themselves that perhaps are not really there. "Holier than thou" is a good description for such people, as they tend to see nothing but good in themselves, and nothing but bad in others.

Before reading further, it might be helpful for you to write down on a piece of paper what you think are the main features of your higher self; how would you describe your angel? Recognise it, but do not become self-satisfied!

Your lower self

Now let us turn to that which represents your bad qualities - your lower self. Again, we all have a lower self - which we might refer to as our double, or our beast. Your double is that part that contains your less pleasant features - insecurity, pride, envy, hatred, malice, greed, selfishness, and so on.

Since we all have our lower selves, it is again important to recognise these. Denying our unpleasant characteristics is not really going to help us to develop. At the same time, it is important not to let "the beast take over" - that is, we have to avoid becoming so ashamed, guilty and depressed by our lower selves that we lose all confidence and wallow about in fits of self-hatred and self-destruction.

Can you now write down some of the aspects of your lower self or beast? How do you feel about them? Recognise them, but do not let them overpower you! In a sense you can almost be glad about them, because it is these aspects of ourselves that give us something to work on, to improve, as part of our development. In a way we actually need our beasts for us to be able to develop!

In this chapter we are concentrating on looking at the effect your higher and lower selves have on the way you receive feedback, obtain information about yourself and your performance.

In chapter 4 we will come back to these ideas, working with these aspects of yourself - with your angel and your beast - to try to emphasise the one and overcome, or tame the other.

Receiving feedback information

First, let us look at the reaction of your lower self to feedback, which is shown in figure 7.

Figure 7. Feedback information received by the lower self

When your beast is in charge, even positive feedback becomes distorted and channelled in a way that stops it from being helpful. Complacency, self-satisfaction and pride are the result, which give you a false and misguided sense of your own brilliance, and prevent you from working on any of your weaknesses, until "pride goes before a fall" - after which it might be too late.

When the lower self is in charge, negative feedback is also misused. After all, if you are receiving some information about negative aspects of yourself or your performance, then this, although unpleasant, does at least represent an opportunity for improvement. In the hands of the beast, however, this opportunity is lost. Instead of being considered objectively the negative information triggers off insecurities, usually followed almost immediately by all sorts of other negative, aggressive and hostile responses, including sarcasm, resentment, annoyance, grumbling, brooding, spite, rage, and bitterness. Usually these are directed at the source of discomfort - that is, the person who was responsible for the feedback - although often other people become the target. These others quite often are Chose who, you think, cannot hit back, such as your subordinates, or your children, or the pet dog. At other times it is yourself whom you aim at, and you engage in moods of self-destruction - or even self-destructive acts, such as becoming accident prone, developing stress diseases, taking foolishly dangerous risks. This certainly is not the route to self-development!

Compare this with feedback received by your higher self or angel (figure 8). In this case, negative feedback, although unpleasant, is seen as an opportunity for development. With determination and courage, you resolve to do something, to work on improving your performance and yourself. At the same time, positive feedback is received and acknowledged, adding to your non-complacent, prideless feelings of self worth - to the positive sense of identity, "it is all right to be me", referred to in chapter 1.

Figure 8. Feedback information received by the higher self

There is also a bonus. The very act of responding with your higher self is a way of recognising it, of getting in touch with it. This in itself enhances your development.

Receiving feedback constructively

Ideally, then, when receiving feedback we should make sure that our higher selves are in charge, not our beasts! However, as with so many aspects of self-development, this is much easier said than done. One way to develop the ability to tame the beast in receiving feedback is to reflect on what happens. This is a fundamental process in many of the self-development methods described in chapters 3 to 8. You can do this just by thinking about it, but it is much better to make some notes, keep a sort of diary about feedback that you get.

In either case - just thinking, or writing as well - try to convert your feedback into personal questions and issues by considering the following questions:

- How am I responding to the feedback? How am I feeling? What would I like to do?

- Why? In what ways are my angel and beast at work here?

- Am I sure? (Ask this question several times.)

- Who was giving me the feedback? How do I feel about that person? Is that feeling influencing my response? Again, what are my angel and beast doing here?

- Am I sure? (Ask this question several times.)

- So: What is this feedback really telling me?

If you keep reflecting (in thoughts, or in writing) on feedback that you get, you should gradually develop the ability to go through these questions more or less instantaneously, whilst receiving the information. This ability should also gradually develop through using many of the methods described in this book. However, be patient if this takes some time. Reflecting after the event will in itself be very useful.

By the time you have answered these questions, you may well be filled with resolve, with ideas for action. You may even find that one of the effects of merely clarifying this question in itself helps to resolve the issue. There is nothing wrong with that, but do not forget this is still the first part of the self-assessment process of figure 6. So the main thing is to get a sense of what the feedback is saying to you.

2.3 Obtaining information about yourself and your performance

There are many ways of obtaining information about yourself and your performance, and it is clearly impossible to describe all of these in a short publication like this one. Four particularly useful ways have been selected and described in detail in appendices 1 to 4. They are

- feedback from other people;
- things that happen ("critical incidents");
- questionnaires for self-analysis;
- looking at the whole of your life, its themes, meaning and purpose ("biography").

You are not expected to go through each of these ways in turn. In fact, to do it like that would probably be unhelpful, as you would get worn out and bogged down. No. The point of describing a few methods is to give you a choice. We suggest that you briefly look over all the methods, and then choose one that appeals to you most. If you really want to, you can of course do more than one, but it is quite likely that you will want to come back and try another some time later.

Do not forget; these are ways of obtaining information about yourself and your performance, which is only the first part of the self-assessment process (figure 6).

After doing one of the methods, you should then ask yourself, "what is this feedback saying to me? What questions or issues are coming my way?" A method for doing this is described in each case.

It might be helpful to give a few examples of what we mean by "issues or questions" - although it is important that you realise that these are only examples. Your own might well be very different. Anyway, here are some:

- my boss: he is asking me "how committed are you to the work of this department?"

- my boss: I want to know how I can get him to let me have more freedom to take initiatives;

- my ambition in life: do I want promotion and material rewards, or a happy family life? Can I have both?

- my ability to sell things: how can I use this to best advantage?

- my poor listening skills: is there anything I can do to improve them?

- my impatience: what can I do about the fact that I get impatient, then angry, when things seem to take longer than I expected?

- my temper: I am often rude to people on the telephone; what can I do about this?

- my wife: she is asking me "is it really necessary for you to go overseas to study for 12 months?"

2.4 Clarifying the questions and issues facing you

If you have gone through all the information-gathering methods described in the appendices, you are probably feeling pretty dizzy and confused 1 In fact, it is quite likely that you will have concentrated on one or two methods, and that you will come back to the others later.

In any case, you are now at the point where you have quite a lot of information, and a number of questions or issues are facing you, as shown in figure 9.

Figure 9. Questions and issues (phase 1)

One of the problems here is that not only might you be suffering from an overload - simply too many issues and questions to handle at once - but some of these may be in conflict. That is, some could well be contradicting others. Although there is no simple solution to this problem, there are one or two things you can do to make it a bit more manageable.

Firstly, just make a simple list of your key questions and issues, as you now identify them (that is, from whichever of the method(s) you have used). It may be that this simple step will be enough in itself. Looking at your list for a few minutes might be sufficient for one or two priority areas to leap out of the page, as it were, so that you can then concentrate on doing something about those.

However, it is of course quite likely that you will still be finding a lot of confusion in your list of personal questions and issues. In that case, it can be helpful to classify them according to the various roles you adopt in life.

The roles you play

What do we mean by this? Well, each of us has a number of roles to play. For example, somebody might take on roles such as

- departmental manager;
- chairman of a standing committee;
- member of governing body or related professional institution;
- husband;
- father;
- friend.

One role might be subdivided into a number of sub-roles. For example, "departmental manager" might become

- person in charge of particular department;
- member of senior management committee;
- friend to certain colleagues.

We are facing a number of different life issues and questions across most of our differing roles. So one way to clarify the possibly bewildering array of such questions is to classify them according to these roles. To do this, a format along the lines of figure 10 is helpful. In the left-hand column, you list the main roles that you play in your life.

Figure 10. Roles and questions

You do not have to list all your roles, of course. You might well want to restrict it to those that concern your job - although do not forget the growing importance of recognising the link between job and non-job development, and the need for balance here.

When you have listed your various roles, you can then note the life questions and issues that face you in respect of each one, in the right-hand column of the table.

Having done this, you should be in a clearer position to choose certain areas and issues to work on. One important difficulty should be mentioned, though. You might well find that the issues in two different roles are more or less diametrically opposed. For example, in your job, you might be being asked to spend more time at the office, or to go overseas on a course, whilst at the same time your children are saying "please spend more time at home".

There is certainly no simple solution to this one! You will have to make a difficult decision. However, there are some ways of analysing these situations in a little more detail, which should help. These ways will now be described.

Identifying alternative courses of action

Now then, we are at the point shown in figure 11. The next step is to explore some of these questions and issues.

Figure 11. Questions and issues (phase 2)

The purpose of all this, of course, is to decide on what you are going to do. It is important to distinguish between general wishes (what you would like to do), intentions (what you really are going to do), and first steps (getting started). In order to "jump the gap" between these last two, you also need resolutions - which make a detailed action plan of what you are going to do.

As already mentioned, you can either choose one particular issue, or a number of related ones (including those that clash with each other), or two or three quite separate ones. Do not forget, though, that you can always come back later to look at some more, so it is probably a good idea at this point not to take on too many at once.

On the other hand, at times you will not be able to sort out your priorities until you have in fact examined several in detail. So it is important to keep an eye on the overall picture, examining several, then focussing on certain ones for priority attention.


desired action


motivations to act


plan of action



The basic questions are involved yet again here. So, for the various issues you are considering, ask yourself

- what do I think about this?
- how do I feel about it?
- what would I like to do about it?
- what am I prepared to do about it?
- what am I not prepared to do about it?

It is convenient here to look at two types of issue. Examples of the first type might include:

- how can I become a better listener?
- how can I be more assertive?
- how can I improve my physical fitness?

In general, these - which we might term small-scope or narrow-focus issues - tend to focus on one element of your development: of your character, or your skills, or your health, and so on. They are concerned with certain limited aspects of your development.

The second type, on the other hand, are much broader in scope. These involve tackling questions such as:

- I want to set some life goals for the next five years;

- I am dissatisfied with my current job. Should I move to another one, or try to improve things here?

- I have the opportunity to study overseas for a year. Should I take it?

- I am wondering about leaving my current employer and starting up my own business.

Clearly, these types of issue involve much more than just certain specific aspects of your development. They may have a significant influence on your whole life style, and they also affect other people as well.

We can look at the two types of issues separately.

What to do about narrow-focus issues

There are two main ways of dealing with these, as shown in figure 12.

Figure 12. Narrow-focus issues

One way, then, is to carry out special self-development techniques and activities, related to the issue or need that you have identified. A number of these are described in chapters 3 to 8, which also give some guidelines on which techniques are particularly suitable for certain types of issue.

However, the other extremely important approach is to use your normal, everyday life experiences as opportunities for development. Since these are happening anyway, let us make the most of them!

Sometimes this can be made easier by translating the issue into action terms.

For example, think about the example of a wish to be more assertive. When? In what circumstances? With whom? Give some examples - when could you practise this? Make it an intention: "I want to be able to tell my boss that I disagree with him". Fine. Then your resolution is that the very next time you disagree, you will tell him so. And when you do tell him, you have taken your first step.

Or take another example. "I want to listen to my immediate subordinate more. At present I ignore what he says." Fine. Then resolve to do it - the very next time he comes to talk to you. And when he does - take your first step.

Of course, it is all very well to say "Fine - then do it". Obviously it is not as easy as that 1 But this can show you the opportunities that exist. Very probably, when the opportunity actually arrives, you will not do as well as you would have liked. Very well - use that as part of the learning experience. Turn it into a critical incident, and analyse it as already described earlier in this chapter. Learn from the failure - or success.

What to do about broader-focus issues

These questions, of course, are somewhat different from the narrow-focus ones. For example, there is no simple exercise or activity that will tell you whether or not you should change your job. There are, though, a number of things you can do to help you with these broader issues.

If you have not done it already, you will probably find that going through the biography process (appendix 4) will be helpful. This can clarify the main questions facing you, and can also give insights into your main life-themes, which can play an important part in making an important life decision.

With these bigger questions, you will almost certainly recognise several alternative answers or solutions. For example, suppose you are thinking about changing your job. Various alternatives could include:

- no; stay where I am and try to make things better here;
- yes; look for an internal transfer;
- yes; look for a job in another organisation.

At this stage, it is useful to take each alternative in turn, and examine it very carefully. First, note all the obvious advantages and disadvantages, in terms of outcomes, ease or difficulty in carrying it out, likelihood of success or failure. Since we are trying to prevent self-development from being selfish, you should also look at each from the point of view of the other people who are likely to be affected. What are the good and bad points as far as they are concerned?

Then take each one in turn again. Imagine that it is now a time in the future, after you carried out that particular choice. So, you have chosen that one, and put it into action.

Now imagine to yourself, what is happening? Who are all the people involved? What is going on? What am I doing? What are all the other people doing? What am I thinking? How am I feeling? What am I wanting to do? (All this in your imagination, in the future, as a result of your choice.)

What are the other people thinking? How are they feeling? What are they wanting to do?

Put as much detail into this imagination as you possibly can. Really try to feel, hear, smell, touch, as well as see what is happening.

Doing this imaginative exercise will help you to get a clearer impression of the features of each choice. It breathes life into your list of advantages and disadvantages, making them more meaningful, more real.

Having said that, a new complication might now emerge. It is quite likely that you will still be faced with some conflicts amongst the choices. For example, you might realise that choice A will lead to some people being happy, others less so. Choice B affects different people. Choice C requires approval or sanction by your employer. Which do you choose? Only you can decide. In the end, you have to make the difficult choice. But...

- you do this after examining the alternatives carefully; you have followed through the consequences for everybody involved, and have taken these into account along with your own wishes; therefore you are taking a morally responsible decision;

- this may help you to talk with those people; after all, your imagination of their reactions might be wrong; in any case, if they are so likely to be affected, do not they have the right to be consulted?

- having considered these things consciously, perhaps you will be in a better position to "brief" people as to what you want to do; if it is something that will upset them, can you now think of ways of telling them that will minimise their upset?

2.5 A self-development plan

Particularly with these broader issues, it is recommended that you draw up an actual self-development plan. An extensive development programme involves a whole host of factors (e.g. time, other people, finance, other resources), and it is useful to identify these so as to get a picture of all the implications.

Of course, self-development cannot always be expected to follow a neat path. None the less, we suggest that you prepare a plan which includes:

- overall goal of your programme;
- sub-goals;
- dates by which you hope to achieve these;
- other people involved, and the nature of their involvement;
- other resources necessary.

You should also discuss the plan with those involved - in particular with your employer, and, perhaps, with your spouse and family.

It is important to recognise, too, that it is your plan, and you are responsible. It is no use waiting for someone to come along and make you a "development offer". You have to take the initiative, be pro-active!

2.6 Suggestions for further reading

Ferrucci, P. What we may be. Welling borough, Turns tone, 1982.

Hoslett, S.D. "Self-analysis: Benchmarks for development", American Management Association Report No. 63, 1961.

Lievegoed, B. Phases. London, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1979.

Manpower Services Commission: Management self-development manual. Sheffield, Manpower Services Commission, 1983.

Sheehy, G. Passages: Predictable crises of adult life. New York, Bantam, 1977.

Woodcock, M.; Francis, D. The unblocked manager. Aldershot, Gower, 1982.