“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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