Are you your best self?

7 questions to ask yourself in 2021

We all have flaws, foibles and blind spots. Problem is that we cannot be great leaders—or even great employees—if we aren’t willing to work on them. Whether we’re leaders or not, most of us have some less-than-ideal traits and habits. Maybe we steamroll over others. Or we intimidate them with angry outbursts. Or we gossip. Or show off. Or get defensive when someone questions us. Or maybe we spend our days flying under the radar so we don’t have to leave our comfort zone.

It can be uncomfortable to look for bad behaviors in ourselves. But as we head into this new year it is the perfect time to take stock. It’s not just a new year; it’s a whole new day. If we can’t bring our Best Selves to work, we won’t be contributors to the innovation, collaboration and ongoing learning that defines companies able to adapt to a fast-moving world.

This is not just about “playing nice” with the other kids in the sandbox. It is about being able to join together with them to build a stronger, better, more marketable sandcastle than the one the next playground over. The more you can do these things, the more relevant and employable you’ll be.

Here are seven questions to ask yourself as 2021 gets underway:

Question 1 — Do I have control over my Inner World (or am I at its mercy)?
The best thinkers, learners, collaborators and listeners have learned how to manage their ego, mind, body and emotions. If this describes you, you have a Quiet Ego and are open-minded and good at “not knowing.” You don’t reflexively defend, deny, or deflect when someone challenges you. You are willing to change your position when you get better evidence. When talking to others, you have a Quiet Mind and are fully present and focused totally on listening and understanding.

Red Flags: A person who cannot “manage self” must always be right. Others may describe you as defensive, arrogant, judgmental or super-opinionated. You may interrupt or multitask while listening to others…or behave in disrespectful ways…or be unable to control your emotions.

Question 2 — Do I have an “Otherness” focus (or am I all about me)?
These days success is highly dependent upon your ability to build caring, trusting relationships that enable the highest levels of thinking and learning for everyone. Otherness is a mindset—a belief that you need the help of others to see what you don’t see because of the human tendency to seek confirmation of what you believe. It is also a behavior—behaving in ways that show you respect the human dignity of others. In the Digital Age, a competitive, survival-of-the-fittest mindset will be the quickest pathway to failure.

Red Flags: You rarely ask for help. You believe you are better than most people. You view each conversation as a win-lose, zero-sum game. You won’t prevent someone from doing something wrong because you want them to fail. You may be viewed as a know-it-all or a braggart.

Question 3 — Do I lift up the energy of others or toss a wet blanket over them?
Positive emotions enable better learning; better decision-making; and more willingness to explore, create and innovate. They liberate people to be fully engaged without the limitations of worries, insecurities and fears. This opens the door to high-quality conversations, team flow and “wow” results. When you bring positive emotions to the conversation, you slow down to be fully in the moment. You express positivity by smiling, by your tone and the words you choose and by your calmness. You behave in respectful ways to others even if you disagree with what is being said.

Red Flags: You are rude and ungrateful. You use body language that says, I am not really listening to you or I am dominant. You put others down. You are closed-minded or not engaged. You are constantly interrupting, raising your voice or getting ready to attack verbally.

Question 4 — Do I enable collaboration (or intimidate and dominate)?
This begins with leaders setting an example. You know how to set up meetings so people feel “safe” to join in. You create an environment in which people care about each other and trust that no one will do them harm. During meetings, your people are fully present, attentive and connected to each other. Everyone gets to speak. People challenge the status quo and seek the best possible idea, regardless of the status or position of who suggested it. (It is a collaboration, not a competition!)

Red Flags: You dominate and aggressively push your views. Meetings are not genuine open discussions—the answer is predetermined, and your real goal is consent and compliance. Some of your people don’t speak up at all. Too often, your critiques get personal.

Question 5 — Do I practice reflective listening, or do I steamroll over the other person?
If you’re a good reflective listener, you allow others to talk. You reframe what you think the other person is saying, to make sure you understand. You ask clarifying questions before telling, advocating, or disagreeing. When you do disagree, you critique the idea, not the person.

Red Flags: You don’t make eye contact. You interrupt and multi-task. You are a great “teller,” not a great listener. Your ego is wrapped up in proving you are the smartest person in the room.

Question 6 — Do I have the courage to try…or am I a play-it-safer?
In the Digital Age, everyone will have to excel at going into the unknown and figuring things out. When you have courage, you are willing to experiment, even though you know you might fail. You also understand that most learning comes from having conversations with people who have different views from you. You don’t mind having respectful difficult conversations. You volunteer for new projects, openly share your views, and ask for lots of feedback.

Red Flags: You are unwilling to take risks. You appear guarded and closed-lipped. Because you fear making mistakes or looking bad, you rarely step out of your comfort zone.

Question 7 — Do I make decisions based on Evidence or Ego?
You are not tied to your ideas. You are open-minded. You never assume. You are always seeking data, even if it will disconfirm your theory or even force a return to the drawing board. You seem to get the statement “I am not my ideas” on a deep level.

Red Flags: You defend your ideas even when there’s no data to support them. You rarely ask for the input of others (and if it’s given, you don’t listen to it). You are invested in being “right.”

If you didn’t like your answers, don’t fret: Becoming your Best Self is a never-ending journey. There are many things you can do to accelerate your growth, from meditating to practicing gratitude to setting daily intentions.


Edward D. Hess is professor of business administration, Batten Fellow, and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the Darden School of Business and the author of Hyper-Learning: How to Adapt to the Speed of Change. For more information, visit edhess.org.