Whenever a person embraces the beginning of the journey to become a leader, it is usually a confusing and uncertain time. What are my responsibilities? How will I be measured? What skills do I need to develop? These are all typical questions people ask themselves when faced with this leadership journey. But these questions are the wrong place to start! Before we focus on what, where, or how our leadership will take shape, we need to understand who the leader is. Of course we know the answer is you, but do you fully understand yourself enough to know what kind of leader you will, and will not, be? Being a leader that is not self-aware can lead to some frustrating, demoralizing, and highly unproductive environments – which is not the situation a leader, especially a new leader, wants to create. That is why the first step towards taking on a role where you are to care for and lead others, starts with a look inward.
I have been involved with the beginning of many, many individual’s leadership journeys. While most characteristics and struggles of these beginnings are often times similar, no situation is ever the same. The one thing I can identify as a consistently present characteristic of leaders that ultimately are successful (as well as something lacking in those that don’t ever really get there) is a strong sense of self-awareness. Being self-aware is often overlooked. Let’s face it we live with ourselves and probably feel we know ourselves better than anyone—which puts a developing leader at a huge disadvantage. Leaders gain followers fundamentally through developing trust with others and reassuring them that they are reliable, competent, and properly motivated. A lack of self-awareness can create a situation where it is difficult to build that trust due to personal characteristics that may be blind spots for, or even adamantly denied by, the leader. This is why it’s so critical for a leader to commit early on in their journey to be self-aware, and to continually revisit and recalibrate their awareness as their leadership acumen and focus evolves over time.
Being self-aware is not always easy to do. Sometimes we don’t like what we see in the mirror, especially if the image coming back to us is not a reflection from a literal mirror, but rather from the insights and opinions of other people or a self-awareness tool that we never considered. But this is not to imply that self-awareness is all about finding out our faults and shortcomings. Leaders often have positive attributes that others see in them that can be just as difficult to embrace as negative attributes can be. There are many times I have heard someone say something along the lines of “people keep looking at me as a leader, expecting me to take a lead role in situations, and I’m not exactly sure why!” Maybe they see or know something you don’t know! The goal of self-awareness should always be to gain a full, holistic insight to ourselves, rather than just a summary of our strengths and weaknesses.
So how do we become self-aware? Probably the most important place to start is with an understanding that complete and total self-awareness is ultimately never achievable, and as such it is a constant and on-going process. We need to start with the intent to understand ourselves, and an attitude to be open and receptive to what we learn and discover. There are many tools that can be used, which can help identify aspects of your personality and preferences, your emotional intelligence, your strengths and weaknesses, and other aspects of your identity relevant to leadership development. Not to be overlooked, and probably more important than any particular tool or technique, is to find a trusted personal mentor. This should be someone that knows you well, and has the opportunity to observe you in a variety of interpersonal and leadership situations. Ask this mentor to share blunt, constructive feedback on your personal interaction and behavior, both positive and negative, especially in areas that might be personal blind spots. With a focused usage of self-awareness tools and a committed mentor, your introspective perspective should improve.
In future blogs and podcasts (keep on the lookout for our podcast coming soon!) I will discuss some of my favorite tools and techniques to help focus on self-awareness. If you would like to start your journey towards self-awareness, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for some recommendations about where to start.