Exhibit A for your consideration from Business Insider:
The Romney campaign is slamming President Obama for saying in a local television interview in Colorado that he would give himself an "incomplete" grade on fixing the economy, blasting the president for not even awarding himself a passing grade.Obama characterized his record on handling the economy as "incomplete" when KKTV News reporter Dianne Derby asked him what grade he would give himself. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was quick to respond to Obama's remarks this morning on CBS. “Four years into a presidency and it’s incomplete?" he said on CBS' "This Morning" with Charlie Rose. "The President is asking people just to be patient with him?
Forget the politics on this example, that really isn't the point. The point is no matter what answer/grade the President gave himself, his opponents and detractors would have ammunition and opportunity to go on the attack.
Answer the question too positively or optimistically - 'The economy is doing great, we are on track to have everyone in America back to work, a chicken in every pot, a shiny new car in every garage, etc.', and he gets destroyed as being colossally out of touch and remote from the reality many are facing across the country.
Go too negative and self-critical - 'Well, unemployment is still over 8% and has been that way for years, the price of gas is climbing, the national debt is out of control, etc.' - and the other side will jump all over that, painting him as not just a failure, (they are doing that already), but as one who admits his failings and is likely in over his head.
Now you can agree or disagree with his policies, but either way Obama is a sharp guy, (again keeping politics out of this), so he tries to answer the question, do the self-assessment, with a bit of a hedge - he rates his performance as 'Incomplete' and tries to do the sensible thing, highlight some of his accomplishments, (he wants to get re-elected after all), but also pointing out there are some areas that still need improvement and focus, (thus trying not to come off sounding like naive and disconnected with reality). But in trying to play both sides against the center, in a way, the 'Incomplete' sort of comes off as kind of hollow, flat, and unsatisfying. And of course his opponents jump on that as well.
The truth is, the question is mostly unfair, since every possible answer is 'wrong', (sort of like the 'When did you stop kicking your dog?' question). And this recent, and widely reported example of a self-assessment points out the problems inherent in any kind of self evaluation, which are used in the workplace by lots and lots of organizations as the jumping off point for an annual performance management process.
In fact, I'll bet the hatred that many folks profess for the typical performance management process stems from the fact that it usually starts with the self-evaluation, a process step and exercise that is almost impossible to get 'right' and difficult even for the most self-aware to complete in a manner that actually adds real value to actual performance.
As Obama's recent 'Incomplete' reminds us, and in the word of the ever-prescient Admiral Ackbar, (yes, I am making an Admiral Ackbar reference), 'It's a trap!
Can you ever win the self-assessment?
Can you really be honest evaluating your own performance and effectiveness and not come off sounding like a pompous jerk?
If you've figured out the secret, maybe the re-election campaign could use your help.