Do you know what you are especially good at? Do you know why people especially value your work or your personality? Do you know that whatever secret faults you have they are not secrets to anyone else? It’s no surprise that findings of a recent study by the Hay group on differences between male and female leaders showed that no matter which gender you are we’re mostly clueless about ourselves. Of the critical drivers of human effectiveness men and women ranked dead last on the same trait. That trait is self-awareness. That’s not good.

Decades of research confirms that emotional intelligence is the most hair-on-fire critical element of effective leadership, management, as well as just plain getting along with others. Research, using 50,000 360-degree surveys shows that supervisors and subordinates most often agree on the strengths and weaknesses of a particular manager. The person who has the most distorted view is the manager himself or herself! That’s you and me. We simply don’t know how we come across to others. In fact, we are terrible at it. It’s not our fault really.

Our brains are constantly conducting a crazy inner dialogue that provides a personal color commentary on everything that’s going on in our lives minute to minute. We mistake this color commentary for reality. So we think others actually understand our thoughts, motives, and intentions.

But except for a very, very few of our closest loved ones, they don’t. It’s true. Most of us cruise through life thinking others hold us in higher or lower esteem than they actually do. Most of us have a very foggy idea of our impact on others. The result is that our influence, effectiveness, and genuine human connections are smaller than they could be.  A lot smaller. That’s what happens when you experience yourself through your intentions and others through their behavior. I learned this the hard way.

After years of success and failure I discovered that many people viewed me as a bulldozer. What they experienced was arrogance. What I was feeling was confidence. What they experienced was commanding. What I was feeling was urgency. Some small adjustments caused me to actively seek contrary points of view, which led to big improvements.

The point is, I just didn’t have a clue. The following is how I advise people. First, realize you are not normal. We are all quirky as hell. What’s normal to you is, well, abnormal to nearly everyone else.  Second, ask others who know you well, the four questions below. I’ve found it’s best to do this by urgent email. Tell people you mail it to that you’re having an interview tomorrow morning so need an immediate, off-top-of-their-head’s response. If you don’t create a burning fuse your friends and colleagues will put responding off indefinitely.

Here are the questions:

1. What do you most value about me?

2. What do you think I am best at?

3. If I were going to invest a lot of time to learn and master something, what do you think I might do?

4. If you could wish that I stop doing one thing that’s holding me back, what is it?

You don’t need a 360-survey or even a coach to start a journey of self-awareness, that could change your life. You only need an email account.  Go ahead… give it a rip.