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Three Reasons to Know Thyself​​

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This is the continuation of a series of blog posts discussing how the competencies that can make for successful entrepreneurs mirror those of internal auditors. It is based on a blog post from the Center for Creative Leadership. My series of posts started here, and you can find the subsequent posts every Friday thereafter.


Emotional Intelligence has been a popular topic in the business world for a few years, and it is now becoming a major subject of discussion for internal audit. (For example, at least three sessions at The IIA's most recent General Audit Management conference were dedicated to the subject.) In February, Internal Auditor magazine included my article on the subject. (You can see it here, however, you have to be a member to access it. So, if you're not a member, you can't get there from here. In fact, if you're not a member, then WHY NOT!!!)

Here's my dirty little secret. Until I began researching the article, I was not a firm believer that EQ (as emotional intelligence is often abbreviated — don't ask why) was as big a deal as everyone seemed to think. However, I quickly learned the importance of understanding yourself, understanding those you work with, and understanding how to bring that knowledge together so everyone can achieve success — a quick synopsis of the premise behind EQ.

Daniel Goleman, a preeminent name in the world of EQ, has developed an emotional competence framework, and the first element within that framework is self-awareness. In his book Working with Emotional Intelligence (read it, you won't be sorry), he defines self-awareness as "knowing ones' internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions."

With that definition, it doesn't take an internal audit scientist to realize that self-awareness is an important competency for any internal auditor — how knowing oneself would help any internal auditor understand how to manage their emotions, understand their own motivations, and understand how to tailor their preferences to better communicate with others.

Self-awareness is such a big deal that the blog post from the Center for Creative Leadership mentioned above included it as one of the "7 Competencies for Freelance Success." However, in the blog post, they put a little different spin on the concept.

The section on self-awareness begins, "A big part of being a successful [entrepreneur] is being able to effectively sell yourself and what you have to offer."

Okay, let's stop there for a second. Selling the audit department is a topic I've mercilessly hammered on in the past. If anyone ever asks you if part of your role in the internal audit department includes marketing, answer, quite affirmatively and demonstrably "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!" Every interaction with every auditee/client/customer is a sales point — a moment of opportunity to sell what it is internal audit offers. So, amen to that initial thought: "… effectively sell yourself and what you have to offer."

Let's continue quoting.

"A key element of selling yourself is projecting authenticity. A big part of being authentic is knowing yourself." Then, the section concludes with "Savvy [entrepreneurs] find ways to transform a keen sense of self-awareness into a compelling personal brand."

What is your internal audit department? What does it do? Why should your customers/clients even bother listening to your department? Are you aware of the unique skills, preferences, resources, structures, and people that are your department?

If you have never explored what your department really is and how it makes a difference to every one of its customers/clients, then you are just rudderlessly completing tasks — following policies, procedures, and standards; conducting interviews and tests; writing reports — hoping that random chance will allow you to have some kind of impact.

And that exploration is a whole lot more involved than just being able to quote the department's mission statement and objectives. It means having a complete enough understanding to be able to succinctly state your internal audit department's brand and why anyone should give a flying footnote.

It means having an internal audit marketing strategy. It means understanding the product or service you are selling. (You realize you are selling, don't you?) It means understanding the customers with whom you work or want to be working. (You know you have customers, don't you?) It means understanding the competitors that are trying to take those customers away. (You know you have competitors, don't you?) It means understanding the competitive advantage you have over those competitors that will make the customers come running to you. (You do have a competitive advantage, don't you?) And it means understanding how to express that advantage in a succinct and compelling way. (I won't even ask that final question.)

Self-awareness, with the department as self, is at the root of understanding your department, its competitive advantage, and how to articulate that advantage. And it means every employee within the department being aware of what makes the department what it is.

This leads to a concept made popular by Tom Peters — the Professional Services Firm (PSF). Think about it this way. What would you do differently if you were literally independent from the organization, but still having to work for the organization? What would you do differently if you had to sell your services to other departments within the organization — if they were not forced to use you as their assurance provider?

I think every single one of us, if we could no longer count on the fact that others within the organization had no choice but to come to us, would need to do an intense departmental self-assessment to fully understand why anyone should care about our department. We would have to dig deep to find a marketing approach that would make us the provider of choice.

(Here's another one you can read. Go find Tom Peters' Reinventing Work: The Professional Service Firm 50 and see if, just like me, your eyes don't get opened just a little about how much better internal audit departments could be. No, he isn't speaking specifically to internal audit, but he is definitely talking to us.)

But we're not done yet. There is one more step in the process of self-awareness, one where every single auditor should pay attention. Remember the final part of the quote from above? "transform a keen sense of self-awareness into a compelling personal brand."

What is your personal brand?

How do you sell yourself? What makes you different from any other employee? Why should you be hired/assigned the next assignment/promoted/given any authority at all?

This is self-awareness at a new level — self-awareness about what it is that makes each of us tick, whether we really want to tick that way, and why anyone should want us to tick for them.

There are a lot of things going on when we throw around the term self-awareness. We have only talked about three of them, but they may be three of the most important.

Being self-aware so you know your motivations, the way you interact with others, and how best to manage yourself is instrumental in any auditor's ability to work with his or her customers. Having the department become self-aware so it can understand why it should be the assurance provider of choice helps ensure the customers come running and the department does not slide into obsolescence. And finally, taking an even deeper dive in self-awareness to learn why you should be the professional of choice helps you understand what you can provide, and helps others understand why they should let you provide it.

Put them all together and there is a much better chance that you'll always find work in this town.​

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