Why is self-awareness important in leadership?
To understand this, let’s first understand leadership – what is it and what is its purpose? This could vary in complexity depending on who you ask, but the answer should always come down to getting results. A leader’s job is to guide a group of people to a final destination – or to achieve a final goal.
The Results / Final Destination / Goal
This part is really important, because if you’re a leader, you should know where it is you’re leading your team. If you work in the private sector, then the final destination would probably look like making sure your team or department is contributing to the bottom line of the business, however, in a non-profit sector, your final destination might look like a more service based goal.
Example: The final destination (goal or results) of someone who runs a kitchen in a restaurant might look like a safe kitchen that turns out delicious food in a reasonable amount of time, which also makes a profit for the restaurant.
Regardless of what the final destination is, there is always going to be a leader who is helping those around them to get there.
But Then There’s Bad Leadership
Have you ever had a boss that you couldn’t stand? You probably know what Bad Leadership looks like then. It may look like someone who does get the results – they will get their team to the final destination – but what did they exchange for it on the way? What have they lost as the result of their expedition? It’s usually either one of two things.
The first would be the respect of the people they are leading. A leader must ask themselves this question – are people following you because they want to or because they have to? If it’s the ladder, there is some work that needs to be done to improve your relationships with the people you are leading. It’s also important to recognise that once you reach your final destination, you then have to stay there. If you’re using bad leadership, you won’t be there for long. There’s now multiple studies proving a healthy working environment (aka how happy and safe do your teams feel) is conducive to production.
The second thing that could have been sacrificed to get to the final destination using bad leadership was their own sanity, and health. If you play the martyr role and are constantly sacrificing in order to get your team to where they need to be, you’re running the risk of burnout and exhaustion. You shouldn’t have to forgo your own happiness in order to get the results, and if you do, there’s work that should be done around pleasing people and boundaries with work. This will ultimately pay off for you and your team in the long run.
So, how do you create a positive, safe environment for you and the people you’re leading? This is where self-awareness comes in.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was leading her team to their final destination. The journey was long, and the path was narrow, but she was certain she could get her team to where they needed to be. She was motivated, confident, and had walked this path before with a different team, so she had no doubts in her mind about where she was going. There was a problem, however, because this leader had really poor eyesight, and as a result, she would misstep and run into her team a lot. She would step on their toes, run into them, or stop along the way and trip on things on the path, holding everyone up even if it was very cold.
After a while, her team started to get frustrated with her. They begged and pleaded with their leader, “We want to follow you, but you keep stepping on us, and it’s starting to hurt. You keep tripping and holding us up in the cold, and we don’t think we can keep walking with you if you’re going to keep stepping on us like this.”
The woman listened to her team’s pleas with empathy, and she promised she would watch out for these things. Very quickly, she realised, though, how difficult it was to watch out for her team’s feet. It wasn’t that she wanted to step on their toes, it was that she couldn’t see in order to not. The longer they walked, the more she stepped on them, and eventually she resigned to the fact that this is just what it would have to be. The woman decided that it was the team who would have to watch out for her. This added extra pressure on her team. Not only were they trying to get to their destination, but now they now had to watch out for their leader so they wouldn’t get stepped on and held up.
It was a stressful journey, and many people decided it wasn’t worth the trek any longer.
Hopefully you can see where I’m going with this – all our leader needed was glasses to see, and all of this would have been avoided. Because she couldn’t see what was in front of her, her and her team suffered.
Self-awareness is your glasses, and developing self-awareness is not only important for your own confidence and resilience, but is vital to understanding how you are contributing to the world around you in order to build stronger, healthier relationships.
Self-awareness is our ability to notice and monitor our inner-world – our thoughts, feelings, emotions – but also how others are receiving us. Both parts are critical for effective leadership.
If you’re aware of the negative emotions you may have in regards to a task you have to complete, but aren’t aware of how this affects those around you, that’s a blindspot. You may be stepping on someone’s toes, making it difficult for them to journey with you, and not even know it. On the other hand, if you’re overly sensitive to how you are affecting those around you, you may be tuning out your own feelings and emotions. It’s been said that only 10 – 15 % of people are actually self-aware, which leads us to believe that it’s a lot harder than it seems to strike the balance.
Luckily, like any skill, it’s something that can be practiced and improved on. If you’re reading this, it’s like because you’ve taken an interest in developing self-awareness. Being honest with yourself about what you need to improve on is always the first step towards change.
Two things you can do to start improving your self-awareness today:
- Seek feedback about what your blindspots are from those who would have your best interest at heart. Be mindful of those you chose to get your feedback from. Ensure they are people you can trust, but also that they themselves have good values which are aligned with yours.
- Start reflecting. If you notice you’re having an off day – ask yourself what happened. (avoid asking yourself “why”, as research shows that too much introspection, and this question specifically, can actually be counterproductive, instead ask yourself “what”). Be specific, and be honest. You will start to notice patterns in your emotions in correlation to circumstances and incidents happening in your life and throughout your day. You can then dive deeper into how to manage these triggers, and your emotions which follow.
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