Self-Evaluations Make Stronger Leaders. Here’s How to Write One.

Self-evaluations promote honesty, self-awareness and accountability — all crucial traits good managers must embody.

Written by Sunny Betz
Published on Dec. 20, 2021
Self-Evaluations Make Stronger Leaders. Here’s How to Write One.

It’s performance review time. You’re probably buried underneath notes on your direct reports, considering a year’s worth of accomplishments, reviewing their salaries, writing formal evaluations, and scheduling one-on-ones. 

In the middle of all this, it’s easy to let your own self-review slide by. For the sake of your employees, as a manager you also need to stop and check in with yourself. Managers that regularly examine their strengths and weaknesses can lead more effectively, said Lily Valentin, head of operations for the North American division of London-based search engine Adzuna.

“When personal growth is consistently put on the back burner, it can lead to poor decision making, misdirected frustration, or even burnout,” she said. “While self-sacrifice can often be in the most immediate best interest of the organization, leaders need to feel and be at their best to successfully lead.”

What Is The Purpose of A Self-Evaluation?

Self-evaluations are a chance for leaders and employees to write about their professional development, success stories and areas for improvement. They’re meant to help their writers reflect on past accomplishments and to illuminate the pathway toward future career growth. 

At many companies, self-evaluations are part of the formal reviews process, but they’re not meant to only be a look back on past performance. When done thoughtfully and intentionally, a self-evaluation can be a powerful tool to help leaders direct their professional growth in the future. 

“When [self-evaluations] were part of [my] journey, I’ve grown exponentially,” said Lana Peters, VP of the Americas at New York-based software company HiBob. “When they were not, it’s been more of a self-guided tour which builds character and initiative, but also takes longer to get where you’re going.”

Self-evaluations give leaders a space to think critically about themselves, measure their perspective against employee feedback, and take stock of their positive traits and areas for growth. Most of all, they’re a great chance for companies to learn how to better support and uplift their employees.

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When writing your self-evaluation, you should never rush things. It makes errors more likely, and won’t give you the time you need to be thoughtful in your responses. It’s okay to bring notes into your self-evaluations — keeping a record of your accomplishments, challenges and endeavors over the course of the year will help you not forget anything major. Once you’re at least a few days out from writing your self-evaluation, block out a dedicated chunk of time on your calendar to collect your thoughts and decide on your talking points. 

Valentin suggests using that time to create a bulleted outline of what you want to focus on, so that you don’t miss the opportunity to talk about key projects or deliverables you were involved in. “Then, when it comes time for you to fill out the entire document, you have a base to start with,” she said.

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Your self-evaluation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Your performance is informed by those around you. How your direct reports and coworkers feel about their relationship with you is a major indicator of how you’re doing and involving external perspectives will provide better feedback.

“A leader is a servant to the people they lead.”

This is another step that can’t wait until the last minute. Cultivate relationships with your employees built on trust and mutual respect, so they’re encouraged to give feedback year round, not just during the performance review period. 

“To me, a leader is a servant to the people they lead,” said Peters. “Key goals should be for those individuals to grow, engage and feel valued. With this in mind, there is no need to wait until a self-evaluation to practice this method.”

How To Write A Strong Self-Evaluation

  • Prepare in advance: Carve out dedicated calendar space to plan what you’ll write
  • Integrate outside perspectives: Ask your teammates for feedback year round— not just during reviews season
  • Include hard and soft data: Bring numbers and stats to back yourself up
  • Be realistic: Talk about your weaknesses, but don’t sell your accomplishments short
  • Keep an open mind: Anticipate and welcome feedback from higher-ups so you can keep growing

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To get a truly accurate picture of how well you met the expectations of your role, you’ll need data to back yourself up. Don’t be vague about your accomplishments — have concrete examples like OKRs, site traffic numbers, and KPIs at the ready to establish your contributions. 

“Whatever the format is, it’s helpful to make sure you are starting the process by grounding it in what you were supposed to deliver,” said Dr. Shonna Waters, vice president of alliance solutions at San Francisco-based coaching tech company BetterUp. “Next, what did you actually do? This might involve reviewing past reviews or check-ins, key deliverables, scanning your calendar. Anything you have that tracks your past activities or accomplishments.” 

“Self-evaluations should not only include financial impact statements, but also soft impact statements focused on the growth, engagement and employees.”

Quantitative data is just one part of the evaluation. Consider your impact on company culture, fulfillment of company values and work relationships. Those are valuable contributions too.

“The information included in a self-evaluation should be based on personal objectives as well as objectives for the position, department and company as a whole,” said Peters. “Self-evaluations should not only include financial impact statements, but also soft impact statements focused on the growth, engagement and employees.”

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It can be hard to talk about their shortcomings, especially for company leaders that might feel pressure to maintain a model image. But while it may be scary to discuss the times you failed to live up to expectations, the ability to do so is a strength in itself. Good managers are transparent about their challenges — don’t shy away from being vulnerable, embrace it. 

“Be honest. We all have weaknesses. I learn the most when I fail,” said Peters. “On the flip side, make sure to include how you plan to improve in that area of opportunity and give examples of early growth when applicable. Self-awareness is important but self correction is even better.”

"Self-awareness is important but self correction is even better.”

You should strive to showcase self awareness in your personal assessment, but exercising too much modesty can also be a trap. There’s a fine line between downplaying your accomplishments and bragging about them, but once you’ve found that line, it’s okay to show pride in yourself and what you’ve done. 

“[Ask yourself:] what is the achievement you are most proud of and why? Who was able to help through this project? What do you want to accomplish next?,” said Valentin.

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After you’ve written your self-evaluation, you can expect your employer to follow up with feedback of their own. Keep yourself open to praise, advice and suggestions so that you can continue to grow as a manager.

“Good manager evaluations will thoroughly address your self-evaluation and build upon that with their own feedback, opinions and advice. Take it in stride,” said Peters. “Keep in mind that they’re your manager because they have experiences you may not have. Be a sponge and open to learning from their knowledge base.” 

It’s almost impossible to look at your strengths and weaknesses objectively. But being exactly accurate isn’t the point of a self-evaluation. It’s more important to spend time reflecting. 

“I believe in order to learn and grow you must have humility,” Peters said. “Even further, when you put your wall down long enough to let other feedback, opinions and advice flow in, it enables new ways of thinking, paths forward and can sometimes reduce the perceived burden on a single set of shoulders. It takes a village to do anything meaningful.”

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