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Listen, Learn, Lead

Last week I learned a lot about myself.

Last week I learned a lot about myself. I participated in the American Express Leadership Academy — a one week training program to develop emerging non-profit leaders, created by American Express in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) with participation from United Way of New York City.

This training focuses on building the personal and organizational skills needed to be more effective in running successful nonprofit initiatives.


In the weeks leading up to the training we had to complete a set of four assessments: Benchmarks, Meyer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), FIRO-B, and Change Style Indicator. I won't go into detail on all of these assessments and you can find more info by following the links. But I do want to share a bit more on my experience with Benchmarks.

Benchmarks is a comprehensive 360-degree assessment that measures a variety of competencies critical for successful leadership. It helps identify the areas that you are strong in, but also areas to work on. The great thing about Benchmarks is, that it is not merely a self-assessment, as is the case with the other assessments I listed above, but it asks for feedback from a variety of co-workers including your supervisor, any superiors, a couple of peers, and your direct reports.

The great thing about Benchmarks is, that it is anonymous and thus eliminates any reason to hold back. An excellent chance to lash out to your boss or to let your annoying co-worker know the truth once and for all. All jokes aside, it is actually an amazing opportunity to get some honest feedback on how you perform as a leader and manager.

I asked some 30 co-workers to complete the Benchmarks 360 assessment and about 20 were able to wrestle to the seemingly endless list of multiple choice questions. Way more than the minimum requirement of 9 responses. From one of the other assessments I now understand why I was such an overachiever in this area. I apparently like to be close to people and I like people to get close to me. Hence soliciting for feedback from a lot of people fits perfectly with this need!

If you ask my co-workers, they will say that this is BS, because they probably think that I'm an overachiever regardless and the real reason is, I get kind of neurotic about these things. So I just ask so many people to ensure that I meet or exceed the minimum requirement. I sometimes overdo it, I have to admit.

I remember when I was a kid in high school and I got an A minus on some test, I would go to the teacher to explain that I really deserved an A. I also arrive 4 hours early at the airport, just to make sure that I won't miss my flight. Better safe than sorry with all these subway delays. I promise to work on this.

Anyway, back to the Benchmarks. This provided me with some great insights. Or better put, it made some of the development areas I am aware of very real. It is one thing to assess yourself and come to the conclusion that you need to work on team building, but to be confronted with this because others actually let you know, makes it an undeniably aspect to address immediately.

After the training and during the first staff meeting I had, I shared a bit about what I had learned and asked for some illustrative feedback on my areas of development. How would my team like me to act differently, what are some ideas we can put in place, and where do I fall short? I truly got some wonderful input to make positive change for myself and the team. Now I have to put it into action.

This brings me to another topic I learned during my training. Did you know that if you formulate a goal for yourself, you have about a 10% chance of meeting that goal? If you write down your goal, your success rate will increase to 20%. If you simply share your goal with someone else it increases to 42%. To top it off, asking someone to keep you accountable for following through on any actions that are needed to meet your goal, will put the chance of success at 85%.

That is amazing! Just by having an accountability partner, you will meet your objectives more than eight out of ten times. During the training we partnered up to keep each other accountable for the action plans that we developed on the last day of the training. I also asked both my co-workers who attended the training as well to keep me accountable for some of other things I want to work on. And I will do the same for implementing some of the ideas that came out of the staff meeting.

This slightly stresses me out, because now I really have to fulfill on what I promised! Not that I usually don't, but I also don't want to overburden myself so that I cannot keep my word. On the other hand, I should take a stand and fully go for it! Behavior during periods of stress was also addressed when we went over the assessments. Did you know that in times of stress you tend to behave the opposite of what your natural personality type is?

In my case, I normally tend to base my decisions on Feeling. Hence, when faced with a nerve wrecking situation, I will try to use my Thinking abilities to come to the best course of actions. That does not come in very handy, for example when I find myself in a burning building: "Should I stay or should I go?"

Of course I am exaggerating and you do not have to be excellent in everything you do as long as you are aware and keep working on improving yourself. At the same time, gathering the people around you who can fill in the gaps (and who keep you accountable for working on your personal growth), will be instrumental on youth path to becoming an amazing leader.

To sum it up, here are some of the things I have learned in pursuit of excellent leadership and that I wanted to share with you:

  • Listen actively to others to learn more about yourself and value this as a gift;
  • Ask others to keep you accountable for any goals you set and support others by doing the same;
  • Gather people around you to bridge areas of development and thank them often for their support.

Many thanks to American Express, the Center for Creative Leadership, United Way of New York City, fellow training participants, my supervisors, and my co-worker assessors for this life enriching opportunity!