Know Thyself: 3 Keys to Becoming a More Self-Aware Leader

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself.
When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.

 Jack Welch (born November 19, 1935) is a retired American business executive, author and chemical engineer. He was chairman and CEO of General Electric between 1981 and 2001.

Leader In The Mirror 2014-10-22


Hogan Assessment Systems recently released this fantastic documentary called The Science of Personality.

In it they talk about the connection between personality, leadership and organizational performance. The primary assertion, made by their head of research is this:

Who you are determines how you lead. And how you lead determines how groups and teams function, which determines how organizations function.”

They go on to talk about the history of leadership theory, leadership assessments and a whole host of other things, but for me, one thing really stuck out: The concept of leadership awareness.

It’s the idea that to be a good leader, you’ve got to start with leading yourself. And that to do this, you’ve got to know yourself. You need to be self-aware. Aware of what makes you tick, why, and how that shows up in your life. Not just in the way you lead.

This makes a lot of sense, especially when it comes to team development. I mean, how can you possibly support the growth of others if you can’t do it for yourself? How do you nurture someone, listen openly without projecting your own biases, and help them see possibilities in themselves (and the company), if you haven’t experienced this on your own?

So how does a leader really take the time to dig deep and get in touch with their inner selves? There are lots of ways to go about developing awareness. Here are three highly impactful ways any leader can go about improving his/her self-awareness:

1. Self Reflection:

Take a few moments in the start, middle or end of your day and check in with yourself by asking a few simple questions:

  • What do/did I feel most energized by? Why?
  • What do I believe is necessary to succeed? What makes this true?
  • When do I feel worried, anxious or upset? Why?
  • Am I making decisions from a place of fear, or a place of possibility?

Reflection as a deliberate process enables you to be aware of not just what you are doing, but why you are doing it. If practiced regularly, these questions can help a leader see patterns in thinking and behavior and then eventually, define actions to change them.

2. Feedback:

Feedback is critical to self-awareness. Trying to be self aware without feedback is like doing your hair in the dark. Not pretty.

Feedback is often delivered via assessments and coaching. I highly recommend tools such as the Hogan Assessment, DiSC or 360. However, if the company doesn’t have the budget for these tools, leaders can try conducting feedback sessions with colleagues, direct reports, family and friends. Bring one to two questions about a particular topic (e.g. communication, project management, supportiveness) and when conducting these conversations remember the following rules:

  • All feedback is a gift
  • Say “thank you”
  • Ask for more information

By following these three rules, you can have a deep and insightful conversation that can be conducted consistently. The information you have gleaned will be useful to make better decisions for yourself and your followers.

3. Coaching:

Leadership coaching has experienced a meteoric rise. Coaches have the skills, tools and techniques to help a leader develop awareness, see new possibilities and take action. They hold up a mirror to help us see who we really are, accept that and then determine what and how to change. Leaders can either hire a professional coach, or receive coaching from a supervisor, colleague or internal resource. Be open to the process of reaching solutions, making mistakes, gathering insights from the coaching experience.

Ultimately, awareness is the anti-venom to ignorance. It has the power to cure precarious errors caused by blind spots in a leader’s thinking and behavior. These are some simple steps to start the process of creating your own healthy dose of anti-venom.

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Jessica Catz
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