Great leaders of people are generally very talented.
They are typically good communicators, ambitious, hard-working, personable, likable, and successful.
But one specific discipline will make any leader better, even seasoned veterans.
I once worked for a guy with amazing credentials. In fact, I can’t think of anyone with a more impressive resume on paper. It was exciting to work with him at first because he was smart and had great ideas. Unfortunately, as time went on, I learned he had a short, violent temper when things didn’t go his way. He cursed at people and verbally attacked them. His insults were often personal, not about performance. He even threw things across the room a time or two.
His behavior was clearly unacceptable, but everyone makes mistakes. I’ve lost my cool plenty and had to apologize for it. But this guy was different. He was completely unaware of the negative impact this was having on management and the rest of the company. He was quickly losing trust, credibility, and support.
He lacked the #1 discipline of great leadership: self awareness.
Stop, and think about where you are
As leaders most of us have been involved in developing a business vision. Usually part of this process is making an intellectually honest assessment of where the business currently stands. We do this because it’s crucial to know where we are before we decide where we are going.
The same applies to our personal leadership development. We won’t become the best leaders we can be until we honestly assess where we are currently. Self awareness should be a lifelong pursuit for you and me as leaders. And how can we expect the people we lead to want to improve if we don’t do the same?
Here are some specific reasons why the best leaders are constantly trying to become more self aware.
1. We need to know our limits
Part of being a leader is knowing where we excel, and where we fall short. Most of us know what we’re definitely not good at. But it’s harder to identify where we may only be average unless we’re more self aware. Our egos are quick to tell us we can do anything and know everything. But we only do harm when we spend our time producing average work, when someone else can do it better.
Obviously this can be an issue of resources for small organizations, but that’s not the point. Very few of us even take the time to reflect on what makes us special. What about you makes you a perfect 10? Self awareness can help us identify these areas so we can spend more time on our strengths. We can spend more time doing amazing things.
2. We’ll make better decisions
Leaders make decisions every day that affect key stakeholders. Being aware of the consequences on short-term business results is one thing, but what about long term effects on employees and customers? The more self aware we are the more objective we can be. When we can temporarily put aside our emotions and personal interests, we make better decisions.
Of course, because we know it is difficult to be objective 100% of the time, we surround ourselves with other people who can help us make even better decisions. Since we know our limitations, we know it’s sometimes not our place to make the decision at all. This is when we have the confidence to step aside and let one of our team take over.
3. We’ll earn greater influence
It’s our job to motivate and mobilize people. We can’t do this without influence. And we can’t have influence without likeability and trust. We may be able to strong-arm people for a short while, but that won’t lead to sustainable influence or results.
Likeability and trust are both things we can control with a little self awareness. When we are self aware we notice when we do or say things that push people away. We’re aware of how our predispositions can seep into our words and actions. Higher self awareness allows us to be more deliberate about our communication. We take into consideration how we say things, not just what we say.
Self awareness gives us confidence in our greatest strengths, but humility where we are weak. This helps us earn the trust and confidence of our teams.
4. Reaching our potential not perfection
Potential is such a vague, unknown, undefinable thing, but we’re all chasing it. We can feel it out there, just out of reach. When we actively try to become more self aware, we take steps in the direction of our true potential. It’s never a straight line, but our increasing level of self awareness keeps us close to the path. It keeps us moving forward, toward who and what we’re meant to be.
Caution: the dark side of higher self awareness is complete obsession over who we are and how we interact with the world. We can’t help be more introspective when we become more self aware. But we need to be careful to not get lost and start looking for perfection (this includes me).
I hope we can agree that self awareness is the key to becoming the best leader you can be. How to become more self aware is an entirely different topic.
How self aware do you think you are? How does this impact those around you, those whom you lead? Please share your input in the comments section below.
Check out the rest of the Leadership 101 series.