Expand Your Self-Awareness

“The more faithfully you listen to the voice within you, the better you will hear what is sounding outside.” – Dag Hammarskjöld

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Self-awareness is the reflective ability to perceive and understand our own underlying motives, strengths, and limitations.

“When the seventy-five members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.” – Bill George, past President and CEO of Medtronics

One arrives at self-awareness by being fully awake to our own inner world. It is only then that we even have a shot at being empathic.

An Example of High Self-Awareness

Consider a social situation where leaders are interacting with others in order to accomplish some goal, such as to solve a problem. People with high self-awareness might do one or more of the following during this interaction:

  • Listen carefully to and validate the opinions of others; recognize when they are over-reacting to opposition and modify their response during the encounter;
  • Take others’ views into account and incorporate those views in solving the problem;
  • Demonstrate a realistic self-assessment of their strengths and limitations in solving the problem.

An Example of Low Self-Awareness

In contrast, people with a profound lack of self-awareness might approach the same problem-solving situation in a very different way. They might:

  • Push their own agenda without care or regard for others’ perspectives;
  • Not listen to others or pretend to listen;
  • Be reactive and not responsive when dealing with negative feeling states.
  • Assume that they are the experts and, consequently, the only ones with the key to solving the problem at hand;
  • Misinterpret the group’s reticence to comply with their ideas; take themselves and their enterprise at hand so seriously that they are unable to recognize their own foibles and/or laugh at themselves. Typically, people with low self-awareness are people who are highly perplexed by the feedback on their 360º’s because they don’t see themselves as others do.

Self-awareness is an attribute that varies in degree: some of us are naturally good at it, some are very poor, and the rest of us fall somewhere in between.

Boosting Your Self-Awareness

How does each of us heighten our self-awareness so that we can become more empathic? Begin by trying the following:

  • Learn to know yourself: make an honest inventory of your strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to your effectiveness as a leader.
  • Examine your values and underlying motives so that you are aware of them as you interact with others.
  • Make a careful inventory of your conditioned feelings/thoughts all of which are shaped by past experiences.
  • Construct an honest inventory of situations where you over-react and learn strategies to monitor yourself as well as substitute another better adapted behavior.
  • Learn to not take yourself so seriously; use self-deprecating humor.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself when you over react to others.
  • Ask for and incorporate candid feedback from others as you attempt to make changes. Accurate feedback is the greatest gift another person will give you.

We have to understand  and regulate our own inner world of feelings before we can even begin to understand others.

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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4 Responses to Expand Your Self-Awareness

  1. I really like your practical suggestions for how to improve self awareness. It’s not something we’re born with, and yet somehow it is also not something we get taught how to develop in a particularly overt way. So your straightforward suggestions are very helpful, I think. Thank you.

    • cedricj says:

      Thanks for your affirming comments Michael. The older I get the more I realize that self-awareness is a lifelong journey. And the more I work with executives the more I realize that it is one of the keys to successful leadership.Instead of unconsciously “bouncing off the walls”, self-awareness gives us the tools to make more informed and healthy choices about ourselves as well as others.

  2. studiomarie says:

    Another great article. I am teaching a class on mentoring and coaching in the workplace this semester. We discuss self awareness as being one of the qualities that makes a good mentor. Thanks for confirming what I also believe. M

    • cedricj says:

      One of the earliest lessons I learned as a psychologist was to monitor my own feelings, sort them out, and then respond to the feelings of others. Self-awareness always needs to be balanced with self-regulation.

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