How self-aware are you?
Great leaders acknowledge their weaknesses along with their strengths. They don’t only work to improve themselves but call on their team to help them grow and become more effective.
There are countless books written on the traits of good leaders, each highlighting a multitude of strengths and capabilities leaders are supposed to embody. Very motivational, but also very overwhelming.
In my own experience working with many different leaders, I’ve found that each has his/her own special blend of attributes that is effective, but doesn’t necessarily encompass every leadership attribute we read about.
However, I’ve also noticed very few (if any) leaders are effective in cases where they lack self-awareness. It’s one attribute that anyone can develop to become more in tune with fixing problems versus creating problems.
Self-awareness can be defined as, “a person’s recognition of his own relative strengths and weaknesses, and the impact they have on one’s ability to accomplish goals and function effectively with other people.”
This can seem counterintuitive to a leader as they have a natural tendency to portray themselves as strong at everything and avoid admitting weakness, especially around those they are leading.
Yet leaders lead, not because of a title that was given to them or a role they were assigned, but because of the way they conduct themselves. Along with many other important attributes, the greatest one is self-awareness. Great leaders put themselves in situations where they can be most effective, collaborating with their team in a way that creates great results. Self-awareness is what helps them know where they themselves can impact success, or what they need from others to get the job done.
Some people become leaders by title when they’re promoted into a leadership role. Yet the title sometimes offers a false sense of confidence – that they have all the attributes they need to be successful as a leader, that they’ve finally passed the test and earned their way to the top! It’s almost as if they’re now the expert and are entitled to be the feedback giver versus the feedback recipient. In these cases, self-awareness either didn’t exist, to begin with or isn’t practiced by the leader anymore.
Ironically, if you lack self-awareness, you probably aren’t even aware of it. Below are some possible indicators that you may be lacking self-awareness:
- Symptom: People seem to leave your organization frequently. Your Perspective: Apparently you are such a good leader that you developed their skills and made them so marketable that they can go and become leaders in other organizations.
- Symptom: People don’t provide feedback to you anymore. Your Perspective: As a leader you really don’t need feedback – after all, you’re a leader. And when they do provide feedback, it’s usually wrong. In fact, you have to educate them as to why they were wrong. Thankfully they can walk away with a better understanding since you took the time to correct them.
- Symptom: For some reason, things just don’t work the way they’re supposed to. Your Perspective: People just won’t do what you want them to do, even when you have clearly told them exactly what they need to know. It’s so hard to find good people these days! Luckily you’re around to fix things yourself. Otherwise, your business would fail.
- Symptom: You’re working harder than ever. Your Perspective: You’re very efficient but working harder to make up for other peoples’ inadequacies. Hopefully, they’re learning by example and will emulate your behaviors. Maybe you can even promote those who most closely emulate all of your strengths even though those people aren’t liked by their peers.
- Symptom: You’re often the topic of conversation amongst team members when you’re not around. Your Perspective: You’re not able to hear the conversations, but it is clear to you that they’re discussing your leadership attributes to more effectively understand how to conduct themselves. Besides that, they just wish they were more like you.
- Symptom: Members of your team have a hard time understanding or addressing their areas for improvement. Your Perspective: For some reason, they cannot recognize they are different from you and still need to fix their problems so they can also become a great leader like you.
- Symptom: You usually eat lunch alone and spend a lot of time alone. Your Perspective: It’s not good for the leader to intermingle with the staff. Fortunately, they know their place in the hierarchy.
Hopefully, the extremity of these points is such that none of them are completely true for you. However, a self-aware person will look deeply at these symptoms and other subpar areas in their world and figure out the degree to which they are part of the problem – or can become part of the solution.
Fortunately, you can improve your self-awareness if you really try. Unlike other attributes such as charisma or genius-level intelligence, self-awareness can be continuously developed and leveraged to personally grow and operate more effectively.
Following are a few things you can do to enhance your self-awareness:
- Very few things can be as valuable to you as honest, candid feedback. Make people at all levels feel welcome and safe to provide feedback. Listen and ask questions to thoroughly understand and clarify. Absorb feedback without defensiveness or deflection. Take time to reflect before coming back and discussing with the feedback provider. Express appreciation for taking the time to give you the feedback.
- No matter what feedback comes to you or how much you may disagree with it, there has to be at least an ounce of truth to it from which you can learn. As much as you may disagree with a person’s perspective, you cannot say that it’s wrong – it’s a perspective they’ve formed. Instead, focus on how/why that became their perspective. Extract every ounce of value from their feedback.
- You’ve probably heard it all before; think back to past reviews and recurring themes. Some of our issues just stick with us over time. Don’t ignore it – find ways to either address it or offset it with the help of others.
- It should come as no surprise that other people are already aware of your weaknesses. Be willing to acknowledge areas where you are not as strong to people on your team; doing so helps you gain credibility and respect. No need for a company memo! But be willing to proactively seek help from others in certain areas while admitting it’s not a personal strength.
- Work with your team to create better outcomes by leveraging others’ strengths to offset your weaknesses.
- What went well today – and what went not so well? Share in the accountability/blame. Even if something is not your fault, what could you have done differently to get the desired outcome? Do you need to spend more time on some issues than you would like or expect? It’s easy to think about what others should have done differently; focus on what you could do differently, as well.
- Are people trying to tell you things but you’re not getting the message? Think through your interactions with others. Reflect on recurring issues and messages.
- Think of the great leaders with whom you have worked and respected the most. How would they handle some of the things you are dealing with?
Having awareness of your weaknesses is hard, but don’t forget – you can improve!. Take the time to analyze which areas can make the biggest difference in how you lead, acknowledge the need to improve and take specific actions to change your behavior in a way that addresses the issues.