The Johari window
It is abundantly clear that the more reflective you are about your own practice as a leader, the better you will perform as a leader. The ability to reflect is undoubtedly one of the most important qualities that you can possess, and for some of us this is an easy process which comes naturally, whilst for others of us it is not necessarily a natural tendency and we have to actively engage in the process of reflection.
One way of helping out our processes of reflection is to make use of tools that have been developed to do just that, and in this sub-module we will have a look at one such model, called the Johari Window. The Johari window acts as a sort of self-audit. It is designed to help us identify our strengths, our blind spots and the areas that we should explore and work on. And it also looks at what others see in us, and what they don’t.
There is a level of vulnerability associated with many of these types of tools and the Johari Window is no exception. You will need to be very honest about yourself, to yourself, and you will have to allow others to be honest with you too. For this reason it is advisable to only conduct this exercise with someone or others who you trust and who trust you. You need to know that they will give you open and honest feedback, and they need to know that they can do this with you. The last thing you need is for the other person or people to be ‘yes men’ who are only going to tell you the bits that you want to hear. Like so many situations, these are great to hear but it is from the difficult bits that we learn!
So let’s dive into conducting a Johari Window.
The first step is to create a grid with four quadrants. Along the top, label “Known by self” and “Unknown by self”. Down the side label “Known by others” and “Unknown by others”. Then each of the quadrants can be labelled as follows.
The top left quadrant is your “Open” area. This will contain information that is known by you and by others, so no secrets there!
The top right quadrant is known as the “Blind” Area. This quadrant will contain information that others know or perceive about you that you are not aware of.
The bottom left quadrant is known as the “Hidden” area. This quadrant contains information about you that only you know and that you have probably chosen not to share with others for one or another reason.
And the final quadrant is known as the “Unknown” area. This area will clearly not contain any information that is known but perhaps in the future, as your self awareness grows and you become more skilled as a leader, will shrink.
The goal of the model is to expand your Open area as much as possible. In other words to reduce the amount of information about yourself that is kept either by you or others. To do so there are various things that need to happen.
To expand the Open area vertically requires a level of self-disclosure. You need to share information about yourself, thereby reducing the amount of information that sits in the Hidden area. This can be a vulnerable task so it requires that you trust those you are working with. There would probably be reasons why you had not shared this information before, but as trust grows, it becomes easier to be more open with your team.
To expand horizontally requires your team to give you feedback. Often they won’t simply do this without prompting so you, as the leader of the team, need to be able to ask for feedback, and your team needs to be able to give it constructively and openly, and know that you will accept it. This, once again, requires high levels of trust on both sides.
To run the activity practically, I have found that it works well in pairs. Each person is given a grid to fill in with the information that they have. If you are the subject of the Johari exercise, you fill in the Open and Hidden quadrants. The other person fills in the Open and Blind quadrants. Then once you have both done this, you give feedback to the other person. You choose those items in your hidden quadrant that you feel safe sharing, and share them. Then your partner chooses items in the hidden quadrant that they feel safe feeding back on and they give the feedback on these. There is no need to swap papers because this might lead people to feel too uncomfortable, but the purpose of the exercise is to grow the Open quadrant as much as you feel able to do.
There is a need, however, to make sure that your team understands how to give constructive feedback. A reminder in advance of conducting this exercise would be well placed and could include points that feedback needs to be both positive and constructive. And remember that it needs to be focussed on work related behaviour, not anything else.
It is important to understand that the relationship between feedback and self-disclosure promotes the increased knowledge about you overall, and a reduction in the Unknown qualities that you possess. As you grow as a leader, people will develop trust in you, and you will develop trust in your team. As this happens both the feedback loop and the self-disclosure become easier and your “Unknown” qualities consequently decline.
The Johari window is a great way of building understanding within your team. However, because it is a tool that requires people to know each other quite well, it is worthwhile doing it with established teams rather than new ones. If you are new to leading a team, give yourself a few months to settle in before braving the model.
But if you do manage to conduct this at the right time and your team embraces it with the right attitude and commitment, you will find that the levels of interpersonal understanding on your team will improve, and the ability of team members to start self reflecting will increase. Both of these factors will have the overall effect of improving empathy within your team dynamic and this will probably help you lead far more effectively.
Point of Reflection: Consider how much about you is known to your team. Do you feel that they know you well enough? And how do you think this relates to the levels of trust between you and your team?
Personal Development Activity:
This activity can be done in one of two ways, depending on whether you already run your own team, or not.
I run my own team:
At your next team meeting put aside half an hour or so either at the beginning or end of the meeting to conduct the Johari Window exercise. For the exercise to be effective the first time round, pair people up so that they are working with others who they know really well, and enjoy working with.
Then conduct the exercise by providing each person with their own sheet of paper, already laid out with the Johari Window, just as it appears below, and following the steps as they are laid out in the module.
KNOWN by self
UNKNOWN by self
KNOWN by others
UNKNOWN by others
This will likely result in a very positive and productive half hour as your team starts to explore what they know and don’t know about each other. But remember, as confidentiality is important, it may be worth destroying the paper at the end of the activity.
I don’t yet have my own team
Conduct the exercise as described above but this time simply choose one person that you work well with and, more importantly, that you trust. Carry out the activity together after you have explained what it is all about. Remember to talk about confidentiality before you begin the activity, and leave it up to the other person if they want to conduct the activity in both directions.