How to Increase Your Self-Awareness

Lucy is a senior manager in tech, and she has taken some leadership training, and is attempting to implement some of the concepts. She’s driving for change and results in her department, and doesn’t understand the need to provide regular feedback to her staff. She does not receive regular feedback from her supervisor, and she’s a top performer; why does she need to give it to them? She wonders why her people are leaving the company.

Chris is a junior manager who is responsible for a group product. Some of the individuals in the group are not fulfilling their part of the project. Chris is unable to contain his dismay, and calls out the team members publicly by making judgmental and hurtful statements and raising his voice. Chris realizes that this wrong, but cannot stop himself.

Every couple of months I work a new leadership coaching client and I hear a story similar to this. Leader has pressing deadlines. Leader squeezes team (and self) to complete work product. Leader hastily makes unproductive remarks, neglects team, micromanages, or lacks the ability to communicate effectively.

Even with all of the resources available, organizations continue to promote leaders who are technically qualified and yet lack the basic essentials to lead people. Business people have known for a long time that technical qualifications do not guarantee leadership competencies. If companies choose not to invest in a full leadership development course, or coaching, they should at least train leaders how to become more self-aware.

Here are five things leaders can do to improve their self-awareness without training:

  1. Have a regular practice of reflection. I have written about this before. Find the time to understand your motives and values, and the reasons for undesirable behaviors. Most importantly, reflection will helps with leadership identity and brand. Who do you want to be as a leader? Do you want to build your leadership brand strategically? How are you affecting others?
  2. Overcome knee-jerk reactions. Identify your “triggers,” and learn to deal with them effectively. Count to ten; take a breath; whatever is needed to do to suspend your reaction. I often like to help clients find systems to deal with a charged situation. One system might be a way to turn irritation into curiosity.
  3. Know your core style of communicating or perceiving things, and how that changes under stress. Using an assessment to do this is handy. I use Perspectives because it helps leaders learn how to flex their style. There are other popular tools such as DISC, or a strengths assessment, such as the RS2 (also one that I like to use).
  4. Practice humility. In his still-relevant book, Good to Great, Jim Collins calls humble and driven leaders, “Level 5 Leadership.” “The good-to-great leaders never wanted to become larger-than-life heroes. They never aspired to be put on a pedestal or become unreachable icons. They were seemingly ordinary people quietly producing extraordinary results.”
  5. Ask for and really listen to feedback. Take it to heart. Receiving feedback is a gift, and allows us to see our blind spots. Without feedback, we don’t know what we do not know.

Whether you are a leader or you are in the business of nurturing leaders, encourage the five tactics above. Solid, honest, self-awareness will increase organizational resiliency, especially during difficulties. It’s not enough to tick the boxes of being a “boss.” You have to do the work on yourself so that you can influence your colleagues and staff, do very good work, and make your organization the best.

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