The Self-Aware Leader

“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 probably the most important capability a leader can develop.

The reason. The self-aware leader is consciously responsive and not unconsciously reactive. He/she knows when to hit the brakes on unruly emotions.  And self-awareness sets the stage for a leader coming across as authentic.

An Example of High Self-Awareness

Consider a social situation that is loaded with stress. Egos bumping into egos. Hostility so thick one could cut it with a knife. Pressure to produce in the face of fierce competition. 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;
  • Be out of touch with what their “gut” is telling them about a decision;
  • Not understand the impact of their feeling world on others;
  • 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? 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 times/situation where you might over react.
  • Learn how to hit the brakes on your emotions and consciously choose a better response.strategies to monitor
  • Learn to not take yourself so seriously; use self-deprecating humor.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself when you overreact 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 or lead others.

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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