Did you know that as you improve your level of self-awareness, your leadership effectiveness can increase dramatically? The reason is simple. You can’t intentionally address and improve things you’re not aware of. People usually think, feel and do things in an automatic, unaware, state. Then someone says “were you aware that when you’re nervous, you pull on your earlobe?” Suddenly, something you’ve done since childhood is revealed. You might ask, “how did I miss this for so long?”
You’re not alone. We’re all blind to countless things that are right in front of us. The technical term for this is “blind spots”. Not a creative term but highly accurate. Lacking self-awareness is like walking around the house blindfolded, crashing into things. This is especially critical for leaders since your job is lead the way for others to follow.
Why is self-awareness so difficult to develop? Our western culture puts a high value on things outside of ourselves. Examples include our physical appearance, material possessions, degrees, social status, etc. We’ve been conditioned to focus on these external factors from birth. Since your attention can only center on one thing at a time, it’s usually drawn away from your inner world.
Also, our culture tends to value extraverted action (moving, speaking, and doing) more than introverted action (sitting quietly, listening, contemplating). Leaders are heavily conditioned to focus on external, measurable goals, actions and rewards. They need to be in order to be effective.
A major challenge for leaders is that self-awareness is an inherently introverted action that receives fewer obvious payoffs than extraverted action. The combined forces of social conditioning, effective leadership requirements, and systems of external rewards exert a gravitational pull that must be overcome for leaders to develop greater self-awareness. As a leader, how often do you feel pulled to be both introverted and extraverted?
The problems with low self-awareness
When your level of self- awareness is low, you’re disconnected from your inner world. Just as you need to be aware of the thoughts, feelings, and actions of others to be connected to them, the same applies to yousrself Your relationship with and understanding of yourself begins with the awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Symptoms of low self- awareness
How do you know that self-awareness issues are negatively impacting you? When you experience the same unpleasant outcomes over a prolonged period, awareness issues are likely involved. If you’re aware of your part in these outcomes but continue the same actions and way of looking at things, there’s probably something you’re unaware of involved.
Sometimes the signs of self-awareness issues are vague. You may say or think things like: “I feel lost;” “something’s wrong, but I don’t know what it is,” or “things just aren’t working for me.” These are very difficult experiences for leaders since they feel the need know where they’re going and how to get there.
Sometimes the signs are troubled personal relationships. You may say things that alienate others and not realize what you said or how you said it (tone, volume, choice of words, etc.). You may do things that offend people and not realize what you did or the way you did it (body language, facial expressions, a way of moving, etc.).
Other times, the evidence shows up as anxiety, depression, lack of motivation, poor focus /concentration, emotional reactivity, etc. These challenges limit our personal and professional effectiveness and satisfaction. Who isn’t familiar with some of these experiences? Who hasn’t said things like “I just can’t concentrate,” “I can’t get anything done,” or “I’m just not motivated” and don’t know the reasons why?
With greater self-awareness, you tend to prevent or correct the above issues. As a metaphor, let’s say you keep walking into the same brick wall because you’re blindfolded. When the blindfold’s removed, you gain awareness of the wall. At that moment, you could prevent future collisions with the wall by walking around or by removing it. None of these options would be available until you’re aware of the wall. So, it is with self-awareness. It’s the starting place for your growth and success.
Benefits of greater self-awareness
Overcoming life’s obstacles is almost impossible without awareness of our contribution to these challenges and our potential options to overcome them. For example, I was divorced twice before meeting my third wife, the love of my life. I played a major role in the dysfunctions of all my previous relationships. Until I became aware of my beliefs, feelings, and actions that lead to my unhealthy relationships, I continuously repeated the same patterns and got the same results. The changes I made only became possible at the point of awareness.
The same applies to every area of our lives. Here are some common awareness challenges. Which ones do you relate to?
- Knowing what we want, don’t want, and why
- Knowing what we’re thinking, feeling and doing and why
- Knowing if we are living up to our values or not, and why
- Knowing if we have the skills and resources to do something now or need to acquire more
As your self-awareness provides these answers, you know yourself better. You can then make better decisions, take more effective actions, and make appropriate adjustments to what you’re doing based on the outcomes of your actions.
The “onion effect”
Developing self- awareness is like peeling an onion- it’s layered. As soon as you uncover one layer, a new one always appears in a never-ending process of development. For example, you may know what you want and don’t want but not the reason why. When you discover the reason why, another layer has been peeled.
Another important area of self-awareness are “unconscious biases.” This is the tendency to interpret evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs. For example, if you believe that other drivers are rude, you will tend to selectively notice cases of rude driving and not notice examples of courteous driving. How often do you experience the phenomenon of unconscious biases?
In summary, leaders who prioritize developing greater self- awareness are in a better position to succeed in every area of their lives. And it can be a fascinating and fun journey. Are you ready to get started?