Self-awareness is an important aspect of managing oneself and self-management in turn is a key step in the stairway to leadership. How can one manage or lead others without managing oneself? As Ramana Maharishi (an Indian Hindu sage) put it, “without understanding yourself, what is the use of trying to understand the world.”
So, what is self-awareness?
Self-awareness is a key component of emotional intelligence i.e. self-aware leaders understand how their personality traits, habits and emotions affect interactions with others around them. They reflect on their words and actions, so as to improve themselves and to lead more effectively.
A person who knows himself is clear about his likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses or his assets and liabilities. They are likely to be more confident in dealing with ambiguity, taking decisions and in general regulating themselves and managing others. Simply put, when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We take better decisions, build stronger relationships, and even communicate more effectively.
What are the characteristics of a self-aware leader?
Self-aware leaders tend to be humble, reflective and observant. They are empathetic and exercise self-control while dealing with others. Leaders are aware of what their triggers are, and how they respond to situations. Therefore, they are quick to adapt to any situation. Also, they are perceptive and discerning while taking decisions.
All these traits contribute to a better and more effective leadership style. Self-aware leaders can set realistic goals, prioritise better and take better decisions. Since they understand what they bring to the table, they can leverage their strengths while minimising the impact of their weaknesses.
There are some who distinguish between internal self-awareness (how well you know yourself) and external self-awareness (how well you understand how others see you). The best leaders know who they are and at the same time value the opinion of others (Source: What self-awareness really is and how to cultivate it, Tasha Eurich, HBR Jan2018 )
There are several ways organisations can benefit by having self-aware leaders. Building a culture of self-awareness helps advance learning and development by promoting the value of continuous growth. There is lesser internal conflict and lower levels of attrition in teams led by self-aware leaders. Besides, such leaders are more likely to be high-performing and to meet their business goals.
How does one become self-aware?
Reflection leads to self-awareness. John Dewey, the American philosopher said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” There is a virtuous cycle that starts from reflection leading to greater self-awareness which provides choices resulting in better decisions and actions and thereby better results or outcomes. In other words, reflection generates insights which in turn propels action.
In this fast paced world, there is a need to pause, reflect and refresh. One should slow down to gain perspective and to achieve more. It is easy to practice reflection. Below are some steps that you can follow –
- First select a process that works for you.
Reflection can be done through thinking, writing or even talking. You could choose to sit and think quietly or even think while walking. You can talk to a partner, mentor or coach, or you could write things down. Identify what works for you.
- Schedule time in your calendar for reflection.
This could be just 15 minutes or longer as per your preference. If you are writing, you may need more time.
- Ask yourself a few important questions.
What is stopping you from making progress? Why is your relationship with a person not so good? What can you learn from the outcome of this project (which either succeeded or failed)? Consider different responses or perspectives.
Keeping a journal is one of the best ways to reflect in a structured manner the past events and decisions. To quote Peter Drucker, “Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection, will come even more effective action.”
Apart from reflection, other ways to improve self-awareness include:
- Building your emotional quotient where you increase your understanding of your own emotions and the emotions of those around you.
- Actively seeking feedback as a means to improving leadership behaviour.
- Being mindful while taking decisions, especially how those decisions impact the people you lead.
In the end though, becoming self-aware is not easy. You must be willing to confront a few hard truths about yourself. It helps you acknowledge that you don’t know everything, and it is acceptable to ask for help. It makes you receptive to new ideas and concepts.
Executive Coaching or Leadership Coaching is an incredibly good way to gain self-awareness. A Coach encourages reflection and asks questions that can help you truly understand yourself and your inherent capabilities. A Coach helps you gain self-awareness around the way you work, communicate and collaborate with others. They encourage you to see things from a different perspective and to reach your fullest potential at work and in your life.
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