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?