The Internet is rife with advice on how to be self-aware. I’m not here to give you the top 10 ways of how to be self-aware. What I will do is help you understand why it’s the foundation of successful leadership.
Think of this blog as a “back to basics”. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll know how often I refer to developing your self-awareness as the most important thing you can ever do for yourself.
Self-awareness means understanding yourself, as objectively as possible, and leveraging it to create a life that aligns with your natural inclinations – not challenge them.
Back in 1972, Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund published their landmark theory of self-awareness. They determined a person can focus both on themselves and their surroundings at any given time; they can think about what they’re thinking, doing, and experiencing.
Recent self-awareness research reveals that people use their external surroundings as a comparison of self to external standards.
Recent studies take this a step further in suggesting self-concept isn’t static knowledge garnered once, but rather it’s fluid, complex, and contextual.
In doing research for a training program I’m developing for new and mid -level managers, I combed my shelf of leadership books. While they’re written by the top leadership gurus, it’s Steven Covey who talks about the importance of cultivating self-awareness. He refers to it as the space between stimulus and response – the space where you can pause and make a choice. Covey believes cultivating self-awareness is one of the highest leverage activities we can engage in.
So what does all this mean for leadership? Likely more than you think.
Quite simply, the greater our quest for self-understanding the more we can predict, choose and be flexible in our behaviors and responses.
Let’s say you’re finding yourself overwhelmed and, as a result, short on patience. You know this is a pattern of response when your stress meter rises. Because you know this, you can make choices to manage your behavior. You may decide to take several deep breaths when you feel yourself tensing up. You may choose to take a short walk, or close your office door with a DO NOT DISTURB. This is where your positive self-talk can be critical in pulling you off the ledge of impatience.
Your own self-awareness is also a way of understanding how you show up to others. A client of mine was feeling distressed with her new directive-style boss. This style was in conflict with my client’s collaborative and affiliative approach. I suggested that both my client and her boss have blind spots on how others see them. This lack of self-awareness was contributing to the tension between them.
This knowledge produced an “aha” moment for my client. She admitted greater compassion for her boss and humility for herself. The way was paved for a productive dialogue between them.
As leaders in large organizations, my client’s example is common. In the quest to drive results, make a difference and meet incredible demands on time, leaders tend not to spend enough effort on self-reflection.
The more we reflect, the greater our awareness and the greater our ability to show up authentically and respectfully. It opens the space for us to pause and make positive choices on how we’ll show up. This, in turn, engenders trust with those around us.
By now you likely realize how impassioned I am about self-awareness. It truly is the cornerstone of authentic and effective leadership.
I said I wouldn’t give you advice on how to develop your own awareness. I will offer this. There are simple ways to set you on your journey including daily meditation, mindfulness, doing a psychometric assessment or coaching sessions that are scientifically proven to facilitate increases in self-awareness.
Are you taking the time to invest in yourself?
“Who do you work with?” is the question I get when people find out I’m an Executive Coach. This makes me laugh because I wonder if they think I’m the executive. Or, to be a client they have to be an executive!
The answer is muddy. Yes I do coach executives in C-Suites. But I also work with business owners, new leaders, senior leaders, professionals such as doctors and high-performers heading upward in their careers and business. And lets put an emphasis on high-performers.
As a coach, I’m not in it to performance manage anyone. That responsibility lies with the employee’s direct manager. From time to time I do however, coach those same managers on their people-managing and communication skills.
I digress. The name Executive Coach has become part of the industry nomenclature distinguishing it from other forms of coaching (life, performance, career, sales, retirement and the list goes on).
Lewis R. Stern, in his article Executive Coaching: A Working Definition, explains the difference between Executive Coaching and other forms of coaching; there’s a dual focus on working one-on-one to develop the executive as a leader while helping that them to achieve business results.
You may be wondering why does an executive even need a coach?
For the seasoned leader, Executive Coaching provides a methodology to slow down, gain awareness and notice the effects of their words and actions. The objective is to make explicit to the coachee that they have choices in their approach rather than simply reacting to events.
And let’s face it, executives and business owners are people like everyone else. They have their doubts, their egos, and their own beliefs or habits that trip them up. I become their thinking and strategy partner because believe it or not, it can be lonely at the top.
With the newer leader heading toward the C-Suite floor, we most commonly work toward letting go of the “expertise” that got them to their new position. The objective is to help them realize they’re now required to lift their head toward a bigger vista. What they view and how they approach their work means shifting to a broader orientation to understand how to influence, who to influence and why this matters.
For successful coaching it’s critical to understand it takes commitment, regular sessions and work in-between. While I’ve got my clients’ backs, executive or not, I’ll challenge the thinking, beliefs or habits that may not be serving them anymore.
How, may you ask am I qualified to work with this clientele? Was I an executive myself? Did I train for this or take an introductory weekend course?
These are exactly the kinds of questions you and any leader must ask when hiring a potential executive coach.
I recently re-read an article in Harvard Bazaar from thirteen years ago, The Wild West of Executive Coaching. The authors described executive coaching as a chaotic frontier largely unexplored, fraught with risk, yet immensely promising. They were drawing attention to the many self-proclaimed coaches with wildly diverse qualifications.
The profession has come a long way since 2004. The International Coaching Federation has become the profession’s governing body. It assesses not only potential coaches, but the executive coach training institutions as well. Since 2007 it has invested in over 8 international coaching studies to demonstrate the highly effective nature of coaching.
Are all executive coaches now certified? Not yet, which is why it’s so important to check credentials.
In my case I was a senior leader in public service, back-filling for my executive boss in her absence. So yes, I’ve sat at the executive table. But more important, I completed a university masters level executive coaching program. I’ve combined experience with the skills and methodology of coaching to provide an optimum experience for my clients.
Whether or not you’re at the top or halfway up the ladder, executive coaching promotes reflection, produces learning, behavioral change and growth. Executive or not, that produces a solid financial return on investment for both the coachee and the business.
Who doesn’t know the importance of trust is in the workplace? Okay, so maybe we don’t all get the significance of it, but that’s a topic for another article. Let’s assume trust is the most critical element of the workplace and, in particular, teams.
With huge demands, competition and the pace of technology, the need to collaborate has never been more urgent. Collaboration means coming together formally on a team, structurally defined for the purposes of the organization or, informally (ad hoc) to respond quickly and efficiently to time-sensitive goals.
In both cases, the ability for teams to work effectively hinges on the level of trust the members develop. We know from the work of Patrick Lencioni in his The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, without trust and commitment, results are hard to achieve.
It starts with all team members agreeing and knowing the critical elements of trust. Each must practice fairness, honesty, openness, exceptional listening skills, respect toward others’ expertise, and candor without being competitive or passive. This creates the space for members to be vulnerable, test out ideas, be creative and influence each other toward optimum results.
But what if your team is virtual? You’ve never, if ever, met your teammates in person and you all live in different locations and time zones. How easy would it be to build trust? Is it even possible?
The short answer is: it can be.
Recently working with leaders in a global communications company, I was struck by how highly they spoke of their teams and company culture. They were fully engaged in their work and committed to high quality results. This really surprised me as the majority of them worked virtually with team members thousands of miles away.
However, in another fast-paced global company the employee experience is far from being engaged and connected within the company let alone their teams.
I became curious. Why is it virtual employees in one company thrive while in another they’re stressed, disengaged and looking for the door?
A leader at a global IT firm knows all about success for virtual teams. When asking her if trust is possible for virtual teams, she emphatically answered, “ABSOLUTELY! !”
She cautioned, however, that for companies (large or small) wanting to move from ‘traditional face-to-face’ to a ‘virtual’ work environment, it’s a cultural shift that doesn’t happen overnight. Like any successful change, leadership needs to lead it and provide communication tools necessary to make virtual meetings and collaboration easy and effective.
But it doesn’t end there. The shift actually ignites when the culture of trust transfers from members of small teams to large teams and cross-functional teams they participate within.
These are key leadership behaviors that contribute to building trust in teams:
Essentials for Leaders of Small Teams:
- Establish Rapport by scheduling regular (weekly) 1:1’s, assigning work that capitalizes on members’ strengths and providing regular feedback.
- Focus intently by listening and actively engaging with your members. Never multi task during 1:1’s or team meetings as it demonstrates you don’t care and that erodes trust.
- Set Expectations that your team members show up to meetings prepared, on time, and ready to deliver quality work. Expect participants to activate their computer camera so you can see each other. Making personal connections often is key.
- Meet in Person by getting together twice or quarterly a year. It’s the casual as well as formal gatherings that solidify strong relationships.
Essentials for Large Teams:
- Build Rapport as above, with the added benefit of the smaller team’s culture and expectations cascading upward as reinforcement.
- Span of control for the leader of a large team allows for regular 1:1’s with the next level of leadership to set tone, culture and expectations.
- Skip Level 1:1’s several levels below your Direct Reports, scheduled quarterly, establishes relationships at multiple levels. Make sure all team members and employees feel a connection with you and that you care about their success.
- Be fully present to focus, actively listen and look to the camera; your team members know when you aren’t and that kills trust.
This is consistent with the findings of Niki Panteli, leader in Information Systems and researcher in trust: it’s the quality and consistency of content and frequency that’s necessary to foster trust in the virtual workplace.
Mutually negotiated and jointly constructed trust relationships are “situated”. As a member of a team, small or large, you too have a responsibility to be part of building the trust:
- Collaboratively create team rules – figure out together what’s most important to this team (hint: these may look different from team to team).
- Stick to team rules as it aligns with or, despite the culture of the company or leadership behavior.
- Hold each other accountable and call out the team when it gets off track.
- Embrace each member’s high value and expertise.
- Have fun! Work is work, but infusing time together with a lighthearted personal approach can go a long way to reinforcing trust.
Working from home, I’m keenly aware I’m not my own island. As the future of work continues to be more diffused, so does the need for virtual workers like me, and teams and companies that build foundations of trust. Without it, results can never be guaranteed.
I’d love to hear from you. Tell us about your experience working virtually with a team.
We all know the golden rule, right? But do you know the Silver Rule?
I’ve written about responsibility before. How critical it is for each of us to take responsibility for our own career. Makes sense, right?
But what about responsibility for your self? I’m not talking about family, children, partner, close friends, bills etc. I’m talking your very own life. The one held together by your beautiful body and your mind that seeks to understand.
Since the dawn of time we women have borne responsibility for the health, safety and well being of others. Naturally we are wired to support and give first.
So who’s being responsible for you? And who should be responsible? Of course the answer is obvious – YOU.
But are you really taking it?
Last night at a professional meet-up, women were lamenting the trouble they have fitting in time for fitness, ridding extra Christmas season pounds and reading a good book. I noticed the husband/partner in their stories would come up as if somehow they’re responsible for these laments. And while the “guilt” word wasn’t spoken, how people spoke their stories was laced with tinges of shame – as if putting oneself first isn’t okay.
A small light bulb flashed in my mind (only small because there were no major
ah-a’s or solution discovered). I blurted out the question, “why is it that we as women give our energy to being responsible for others without being responsible and accountable to ourselves FIRST?”
Now I know I’m not the first person to think about this let alone talk about it, but I believe it bares bringing up yet again. This repeating pattern in each of us, as well as the long line of females before us, just seems so darn ironic.
What if we flipped this idea over, shook it up and tried looking at it from a different perspective?
What if this new perspective means starting from the place of your own personal responsibility and accountability? How might your world be different?
Let me tell you how it is for me. You may know I left my senior position with a large organization a couple of years ago. That was catalytic in forcing me to take charge of me. No one else could figure out what my next step would be. No one else could make me get up and dressed each morning that long winter. And no one else could peace.
The result was a brand new feeling of openness. I was ready to move ahead – my way. Fast-forward to last fall when I started feeling I just wasn’t my best; a few extra pounds, a few more glasses of wine, and a few too many sweets (I’m not perfect either). I know if I’m to take my business to the next level in 2016, I’ve got to take full responsibility for making some changes – changes that would open up space and energy to reach my goals.
The whole idea of making certain changes was scary and I felt a tad guilty for making it all about me (my ever-supporting family was waiting for the plank to hit my head once again). But, and here’s the big but, if I’m to serve others to the best of my ability then I must take 100% responsibility for putting myself first!
I threw out the sugar, poured out the wine and deep sixed the grains. To make it even easier, I reflected back on what it took for me to rise up from the ashes of gloom following my job loss. I knew from that experience the only way I would be successful in every way is to step up and own my life. And this means saying my mantra everyday “I have everything I need inside me. I am responsible”.
Ok, so I know this is all pretty revealing stuff. But I’m open to telling you because from one woman to another, life is so much better when we learn once and for all to take responsibility for ourselves with compassion and joy – unfettered by guilt.
Just like me, you owe it to yourself and those around you to make yourself THE priority. Be it heading to the gym, daily meditation, weekly massages, or just saying no to the barrage of requests for your time, the responsibility is yours and yours alone.
Sure, you may have to boldly ask your partner or family member to take over one of “your” chores or drop your kids off with grandparents. But that’s okay. In fact it’s more than okay. How can you possibly be the best version of yourself for everyone else if you don’t get your own needs met (kind of like when the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on before putting one on your child)?
Just like me, I know for certain you can do this. So open the window and shoo away the guilt once and for all. I give you permission.
(But hey, responsibility is just the first step. Next up is accountability and staying with the changes you’ll make!)
Start by asking, “Am I living the Silver Rule?”
Like me, I think most of us grew up being told to “do your best”. We were never told to “make a mistake”. Good reason for that – as humans we strive to succeed and those around us want us to be the best we can be. But what if were given permission to make mistakes? What if that was expected of us?
Sure, no one likes to make a mistake, but there are benefits. When you own up to a bad choice or decision, it opens you up to these opportunities: