By Scott Weighart, Director of Learning and Development

Intellectual horsepower, work ethic, and drive get you a long way in life. But a lot of really successful people often feel deep down there are a few things holding them back from unparalleled success. The trouble is, we don't know what those things might be. 

What I’m talking about is self-awareness—the ability to see yourself and understand not only how others see you but why those are factors in failure or success.

So how do you eliminate those blind spots? Painful as it may sound, a 360 interview and feedback report will help you get insights that are hard to come by any other way. 

A lot of people wonder why there sometimes is such a split between perception and reality. Decades ago, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created a paradigm that helps explain it. They decided to mash up their first names to create what they called a “Johari Window.”  Their goal was to help people have better self-awareness as well as an improved ability to relate to others.

The way it works is kind of similar to the 360 interviews that we do as executive coaches.  You would choose words to describe yourself… and then others are asked to pick words that they would use to describe you.  Then the big question is answered: Do you see yourself as others see you?

There are four possible outcomes, as shown in the grid below.  Various folks have come up with different names for the four boxes.  Let’s walk through each of them.


Known about yourself

Not known about yourself


Known to others


The Aligned Self


The Blind Self


Not known to others


The Secret Self


The Unconscious Self


  • When your own self-perceptions are similar to how others see you, this is what I call the “Aligned Self.”  For the most part, this is where you want to be. 
  • The “Blind Self” represents those parts of you that may be visible to others... but that you may have little or no awareness about or that you may see very differently.  This can be a problem.
  • If you have knowledge about some aspect of yourself but others are not aware of it, then we’re talking about your “Secret Self.”  As you’ll see, this can be appropriate, but this self also can represent a potential problem as well as an opportunity.
  • Lastly, there is the “Unconscious Self.”  As it’s unknown to all, it may be tempting to ignore it… but this would be a mistake, as I’ll describe shortly.

As I mentioned, this grid was created as more of a psychological tool.  Psychotherapists, for example, try to help people increase the size of the Aligned Self while shrinking the Blind Self and, to some degree, the Secret Self.

But when I’ve mentioned the concept to our team of executive coaches recently, it has resonated with them immediately.  When we think about executive development and executive presence, this model is really relevant:

  • Many executives need to diminish the size of their Blind Self.  If you are perceived as lacking in terms of executive presence, strategic thinking, and leadership communication, you need to be made aware of it if they aren’t already.  This is where an executive coach can be really valuable as an impartial outsider who is on your side—but who also will share the truth.
  • When I described the “Secret Self” to one of our executive coaches, she immediately said, “Aha!  That’s what I call the Imposter Syndrome.”  Some executives are perceived as relatively effective leaders and communicators, but inside they are dogged by doubt and insecurity.  They may question whether they can really lead.  They may need coaching and mentoring to overcome those perceptions—whether they are accurate or not.
  • The “Secret Self” also represents an opportunity for leaders.  While good judgment is necessary, it can be useful for you to share stories as a leader about your personal failings, dumb ideas, mistakes, and awkward moments.  In fact, these prompts often lead to great short speeches when we teach storytelling in our Speak Like a CEO Boot Camp.  These stories humanize you and help your team connect with you as a leader.
  • The “Unconscious Self” could be thought of as your untapped potential as a developing leader—qualities that could be brought out—if only you and others were aware of it.  We believe, for example, that any leader can learn to be a good storyteller… and this is a real revelation to many of our clients, who have never thought of themselves as storytellers or been thought of that way.

Executive development needs to start with an assessment phase.  Ignorance is not bliss: What you don’t know about yourself can definitely affect your success as a leader.  Understanding the gaps between how you see yourself and how others see you—as well as what are you today versus what you could be tomorrow as a leader—is the first step toward moving from Secret or Blind to Aware and Aligned.

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