We’ve all been there. You’ve been stuck for hours in a lengthy Friday afternoon staff call, the air conditioning is struggling, and you’re really regretting your decision to drink an entire 64-ounce Big Gulp during the meeting. But the boss is wrapping up and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. She’s about to pull chocks when… it happens. Out of the blue, someone offers a comment, one not at all related to the topic at hand. And it re-energizes the boss at the worst possible time.

Once again, it was that guy.

Forget about going to the bathroom. Forget about going home. You’re not even going to get out of the conference room before the sun sets. All thanks to that guy.

Don’t Be That Guy

That guy is ubiquitous. There’s one around every corner. If he’s not exhaustively mansplaining – which, for the record, happens to both men and women – something to someone in the presence of your boss, he’s making unnecessary “corrections” to someone else’s briefing slides or offering you unwanted career advice.

Over the years, we’ve all worked with that guy. I once followed that guy as a planner, someone who’s proclivity for playing spotlight ranger around the commanding general earned him a six-month deployment to the Balkans. I worked with that guy again the following year, someone with a well-earned reputation for stealing the work of others and claiming it as his own. I even worked for that guy later in my career, someone known for giving the staff bad guidance then blaming them when the commanding general questioned why they didn’t provide what he’d asked.

That guy is everywhere. He’s been immortalized in memes. There are entire websites committed to his misdeeds (and how to avoid becoming a victim). There’s even a podcast or two detailing the warning signs and behaviors that typify that guy. And he’s even got his own definition. 


There are any number of reasons why that guy does the things he does. Some people have a pathological need to be the center of attention. Some people honestly believe they’re being helpful. Some people are just lame. What they all share in common is an unbearable absence of self-awareness. They simply don’t seem themselves as everyone – and I mean everyone – sees them.

Listening to a recent podcast, I was struck by two facts: 95% of people say that they’re self-aware, but only 10-15% actually exhibit any self-awareness at all. Translated, that means somewhere around 80% of us are lying to ourselves. That doesn’t mean 80% of us are that guy. A fair number of us possess enough social and emotional intelligence to avoid stumbling down that path. But that still leaves a lot of space to improve our self-awareness.

5 Ways to Cultivate Self Awareness

In a 2015 Harvard Business Review article, Anthony Tjan described five ways we can cultivate self-awareness and, along the way, maybe avoid becoming that guy.

1. Meditate.

Reflect. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish in life, whether it’s working, how you might be sabotaging yourself, and what you can do to change.

2. Document and prioritize your key goals.

Track your progress. Are you making good choices? Are you getting the desired return on your investment of time and effort? Or are you just lucky?

3. Complete personal assessments.

I’m not talking about those data mining quizzes about what superhero you should be, but actual psychometric tests like the Myers-Briggs. Take that information and look inward. Reflect. Change.

4. Ask your friends.

Your friends – assuming you still have some – aren’t going to hold back. In fact, they’ll probably be brutally honest with you.

5. Get feedback from your coworkers.

Odds are, if you’re that guy, people will tell you if you ask sincerely. To be fair, annoy enough people and they’re going to tell you regardless of whether you ask sincerely.

But if you Are that Guy…

Frankly, if you’re that guy, you probably won’t do any of these things. In fact, you’re probably scoffing at this article. Maybe thinking that you would write it differently. You’re considering writing something scathing in the comments section. But that’s because you’re that guy and that’s pretty much what you do.


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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.