Leveraging Self-insight Towards Gender Equality

September 21, 2016 | By Maretha Prinsloo

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Not many women end up in top leadership roles within the corporate world. In a world where talent and leadership are highly sought after, almost half the potential talent pool thus remains untapped.

What are we looking for?

There are many factors that prevent women from moving into executive roles (see Cognadev’s blog). At the top of the list is the issue of self-confidence.

Confidence is not the same as positive thinking, wishful thinking and hope. Self-confidence is realistic, based on self-knowledge and previous achievements. It is not about being overconfident, which may involve self-deception and denial. Confidence has more to do with self-efficacy, one of the main pillars of psychological capital. It involves the confidence required in oneself to perform a certain task and to put in the necessary effort to be effective.

Confidence is a part of emotional resilience. It assists a person to effectively manage daily challenges: the mix of good and bad news, one’s own successes and failures and others’ achievements and shortcomings. Those who understand and trust themselves develop the psychological substance necessary not to be intimidated and disturbed unduly.


A poker website defines confidence as “simply the belief that you have the ability to accomplish the task at hand”. The self-belief, passionate interest and optimistic expectations associated with confidence, has to be backed up by a realistic understanding of oneself in order to effectively inform choices about the context that is best to apply one’s skills and interests. An understanding of the interpersonal factors that may hamper or optimise one’s interpersonal effectiveness are also crucial.

Understanding oneself

Without having self-knowledge and insight, decisions about family life, work and education, are complicated and based on assumptions or irrational considerations which tend to limit self-realisation. Varied experiences, awareness and introspection are all useful in developing self-insight, but there also is a need for in-depth, scientifically-based and valid information about oneself and one’s hidden talents in order to optimise personal and career decisions.

The solution to open the doors to self-knowledge and insight lies in an innovative assessment approach, based on systems modelling.

The Cognadev solution

Cognadev addresses the very complex nature of the individual and potential leader. It is aimed at mapping unchartered psychological territory to enable self-navigation. By doing so it points out those unique aspects that the person can be confident about and can leverage towards self-realisation and the achievements of own goals, including leadership roles.

Cognadev recommends the exploration of the intellectual functioning, the worldview and perceptual frameworks as well as the motivational profiles of leaders. Given the gender composition of the current corporate leadership cadre, this approach is, however, largely used to hone the leadership effectiveness of men.

A brief explanation of the assessment and development of these aspects of personal functioning follows:

A leader needs to know what their cognitive preferences, styles, capabilities and learning potential are. It is also of critical importance to know the degree of vagueness and fuzziness a person can deal with in making effective intuitive judgements – as opposed to assumptions which can backfire. The Cognitive Process Profile (CPP) assesses all these aspects and the person can be briefed and coached on how to position themselves, which skills to capitalise on and how to use their cognition to astound others around the boardroom table through coherent and innovative conceptualisations. Not understanding one’s own intellectual potential is a serious drawback and chink in any leader’s armour. It exposes one to error, loss of face and loss of trust that others may have in your judgement capacity.

Worldview and Values
In leading an organisation, one needs to understand the organisational culture, the broader cultural context (in the case of global organisations), plus it is crucial to understand what makes different kinds of people tick. These complex matters are elegantly summarised by the Spiral Dynamics (SD) model on which the Value Orientations (VO) assessment is based. The SD model offers a simple to understand, integration of almost the entire bodies of literature on developmental psychology, consciousness and culture. Completing the VO instrument and getting feedback on one’s own preferences, dislikes, Achilles heels and blind spots, opens up a new perspective on one’s own as well as on human functioning in general. This enables the leader to effectively interact with people from diverse cultural and personal persuasions. Without understanding what one regards as important, beautiful and good, and thereby not knowing what one’s perceptual and decision making frameworks (and biases) are, is a serious shortcoming that has derailed many a leader. Understanding the subtle yet fundamental memes which underlie cultural and personal functioning, provides the leader with the necessary means to remain confident regardless of social contexts and challenges and enables resonance between leaders and followers.

Motivational drivers
Leaders are almost always passionate and energetic individuals and followers tend to feed of the energy of their leaders. As human beings, however, we all have our limitations, and we need to understand these to sustain high energy levels and to avoid burnout. The Motivational Profile (MP) involves a non-transparent methodology to gage a person’s current energy levels (in this sense, part of the output of the MP is situational); their degree of self-insight, their emotional intelligence, their personal purpose and life script, their dynamic personality patterns and most importantly, their defence mechanisms and how to deal with those. Again, feedback on one’s MP profile opens up a new world to the amateur psychologist and enables one to understand what energises or drains oneself, what to seek out and what to avoid. This information enables self-management and enables effective introspection. Others tend to respond positively to a realistic, mature and insightful person who manages to maintain the levels of energy required at a leadership level. The leverage obtained via MP results also significantly contribute to self-confidence and compassion towards self, others and the world.

Psychology, and Cognadev in particular, therefore has something unique and innovative to offer women who aspire to understand and actualise their personal potential. For women in leadership the recommended assessments are almost a non-negotiable to enhance self-insight, optimise self-actualisation, to guide and direct others, and to make the world a better place.