The Self-Aware Leader
There are many characteristics associated with effective leaders; you can find those lists easily, or you can just make a list yourself. If you have read my writing much, you know that I believe that remarkable leaders are learners – that they must be learning to be successful in nearly every part of their role. I believe that an important part of our ability to be a learning leader is to be self-aware.
The Oxford Dictionary defines self-awareness as a conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. Given that definition, I want to give you three reasons why you would want to build the skills and habits of self-awareness if you want to be a better leader and some reflection questions for each of these reasons.
Others are watching. Everything in your behavior is being observed and evaluated by those around, especially your team. They are noticing what you do and say, how you do and say it, and even what you aren’t doing or saying. The degree to which a leader is unaware of their behavior and how it is being perceived by others limits their ability to be successful today, and become more successful tomorrow. To better understand this, consider questions like:
• How are people responding to you?
• In what ways are those responses surprising?
• How often do you feel misunderstood, or your actions are misinterpreted?
• Do you recognize other people’s perceptions as feedback to consider?
You impact everything. Like a pebble tossed into a pond, your presence and behavior will necessarily change the way your team operates, what they value and what they believe.
Who you are and how you behave changes the relationships your team members have, the expectations they carry about their work, how productive they are, and what values they carry in their work. As a leader, you must realize how your presence affects the team. To think about this more carefully ask yourself questions like:
• Do you notice your team (or individuals) changing when you walk into the room?
• If so, in what ways?
• How open does your team seem with you?
• How would you access the level of trust team members have in you?
Consider cause and effect. As it relates to self-awareness, the most important cause and effect relationship starts with your thoughts. What you are thinking impacts your actions, consciously or not, and therefore directly impacts the two items above. Some questions to ask yourself here include:
• What are your beliefs about your team and each member of it?
• What are the most important parts of your job?
• What do like most about your role as a leader?
• What do you wish you were better at?
Self-awareness requires introspection: to look inside yourself at what you were thinking and feeling at any moment, and how it lead you to speak and act. When looking back at a situation, you can see how you responded and why, but more importantly, you can see what type of reaction or outcome resulted. Since we mostly operate on auto-pilot, when we stop and reflect on what we did, why we did it and how it worked, we have a chance to change the auto-pilot settings in the future (if we so choose).
If you want to become a more effective leader, decide to be more self-aware, more introspective, and step back to assess yourself using the kinds of questions above. Time spent doing this will almost assuredly aid you in your journey to becoming a more effective leader.
And before we close, one more important thing . . .
The most effective leaders recognize the power of self-awareness, and are also more open to and actively seek feedback from others as a part of their learning and growth. As important as the self-awareness and self-evaluation is, it is just a starting point and fuel for the desire to grow as a leader and a human being.