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“Alright, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up”

Thursday, February 6, 2014 - Paul Blackhurst, Client Director, Mannaz, February 2014

As a father of four daughters, I am very familiar with the selfie*. Like most young people, my children take endless photographs of themselves on their phones. They post the best of these pictures on Facebook so that the world can 'like' their undoubted beauty, and, of course, their father takes 50 per cent of the credit for their good looks.

The 'selfie' represents the face they want the world to see; however, it is a self-conscious pose lasting a split second in time, and the captured images that result bear little resemblance to the faces I see as they navigate their daily lives. This gets me thinking about a conversation I had with a client recently about the difference between assessment and development and the risks of muddling the two.

Most of Mannaz's work is in leadership development, and, in that context, it is essential that people are able to be themselves and open to real feedback, which reveals both the beauty and the beast in the person. It is not always comfortable to face up to the less appealing parts of our behavior or beliefs, but it is incredibly healthy and useful. Creating the environment of trust, honesty and openness amongst a group of ambitious senior managers is a real art, and facilitators who can achieve such an environment bring a great service to their participants.

In this environment, it is not the selfie that gets the feedback but the authentic human beeing without the make-up, the carefully-chosen angles, and the artfully-fashioned expression. The selfie is more appropriate in an assessment centre where the people taking part need to show their very best side in order to demonstrate that they are ready for bigger, and better, things. They logically select their behaviours and choose which weaknesses and fears to reveal or to hide. The real competence is to be able to manage both aspects of who we are. We have a public face that we can manage and which our colleagues and freinds deserve to see in order for them to give their best.

In private, we need to be able to look in the mirror and honestly assess the face that looks back at us. As consultants, we need to be very clear with our clients that assessment and development are not the same thing. It is tempting to try to mix the two, and to assess people whilst they are under the impression that they are in a development programme. But this is unfair, unethical and ineffective.

*Selfie - Oxford Dictionary's word of the year in 2013: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam, and uploaded to a social media website.