Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything.

You may have seen this quote before, or some version of it. The words have been attributed to different people over the years, including poet and transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, and Frank Outlaw, founder of the Bi-Lo supermarket chain.

But regardless of the quote’s origin, the meaning is clear: even the smallest changes in the causal chain can fundamentally affect who we are and how others see us.

At CCL, we provide leaders with a way to “watch themselves” – a mirror into the persona.

Assessment data from 360 feedback surveys and personality tests help leaders understand themselves and how others see them. For many, this self-awareness can be a catalyst for change. For others, the feedback can be threatening, and real change becomes a gargantuan task.

It’s true that changing our traits, personality, or character can seem daunting or even insurmountable. But it doesn’t have to be.

Our personality and the opinions others have about us are woven from the cloth of our daily interpersonal habits—the words we say to others, the things we do, and the ways we behave. We can change the whole by changing the smaller parts. And to have an even greater impact, we can look further up the causal chain to see what we can watch and control.

For many of us, the smaller habits are also the hardest ones to watch. Nonverbal communication is a good example. The way we sound, look, and act has a much bigger impact on how others see us than the words we speak. Yet these traits are often the part of our personality that we’re least aware of, least intentional about, and less able to control.

For example, you may see yourself as a leader who works hard to inspire and energize your team with positive emotion. At the same time, you’re unaware of the angry look on your face as you enter the office, the anxious tone you project during meetings, or the impatient way you listen to a colleague’s concerns.

Typically, standard assessment tools don’t provide feedback on how we look and sound when communicating with others. The good news is that recent developments in affective computing  have brought new tools to fill the gap.

Consider Affectiva, which provides real-time feedback on our expression of emotions, or Beyond Verbal, a program that can identify the attitudes and emotions we communicate with our voice. These technologies can bring new awareness of how we present ourselves to the world, and through continual feedback, show our progress toward positive change.

Still think small changes in our daily habits can’t change personality? Consider the evidence.

We have a growing body of research showing how our bodies react to even small changes in behavior. Smiling, for example, sends feedback to the brain that we are happy, which in turn activates the neural changes that lead to happiness.

Other research has traced warm, authentic smiles in yearbook photos to greater happiness and well-being later in life. As philosopher and psychologist William James observed, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.”

The future of assessment is just that — helping leaders see the small changes that can make a big difference.

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