Basic Leadership: Improve Your Self Awareness Skills
Leadership as a whole is very complex and requires many skills such as people skills, conflict management, vision casting, listening, and communicating. One skill, however, that is often overlooked is the very skill that is at the core of leadership. Every leader must have a heightened sense of self-awareness.
I once heard Nancy Ortberg, leadership consultant and writer say, “The leader must be the most self-aware person in the room.”
Never underestimate the power of self-awareness. While it is something that can be learned, it is not something that can be taught. No one will offer a course in which you are the sole subject. Only you can dive into your history, your strengths, your weaknesses, your motives, and your passions. Knowing these things and understanding how they affect your work and your relationships is leadership in is most basic form. Self-awareness is the first step, the cornerstone, of leadership.
Keep in mind, however, that self-awareness is not for the faint of heart. Examining yourself is hard work. There is no guarantee that you’ll like what you find. There may be some things that you’ll see need to change, relationships you need to restore, and motives you need to realign. Developing an accurate perception of self, however, is worth the effort. Truly knowing who you are will go a long way in helping to identify and road blocks and obstacles in your leadership path.
There are several resources available that will help you discover this basic leadership skill. Take advantage of on-line personality and conflict management assessments. Read books on birth order and finding your strengths. Take the quizzes, look at the results, and ask those closest to you if they are accurate. If you are caught off guard with what you find, you may not have an accurate self-perception. Many leadership failures can be traced back to lack of awareness.
Know Your History
Where did you come from? How does that play into your present? How does your past affect the decisions you make today? Understanding these things will give you a greater discernment and direction. Understanding the past can help you repeat the positive while breaking negative cycles of behavior.
While others may have had similar experiences, no one except for you experienced things the exact same way as you. Your responses, your reactions, your perceptions are all unique. Developing a clear sense of your history will determine the direction of your future.
Identify Your Stengths
The book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, written by authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath, demonstrates how most people have overly positive illusions about themselves. For example, “A full 25 percent of people believe they’re in the top 1 percent in their ability to get along with others. They go on to explain the importance on an accurate self evaluation:
“Positive illusions pose an enormous problem with regard to change. Before people can change, before they can move in a new direction, they’ve got to have their bearings. But positive illusions make it hard for us to orient ourselves – to get a clear picture of where we are and how we’re doing.” (Heath & Heath, 115)
Know what you’re good at and develop a realistic view of those skills. Which ones should you utilize? Which ones do you need to continue to home in on and improve? Focus on developing those strengths. Get your bearings straight and build your leadership around your natural abilities will lead to success.
Accept Your Weaknesses
Most of us don’t like to admit that we even have weaknesses, especially to others. As a leader, you may be even more hesitant to expose areas of vulnerability. Recognizing your weaknesses however will help you determine how to compensate for them as a leader. Are you lacking skills that you could learn? Can you add others to your team who excel in those areas?
Don’t spend too much time focusing on your weaknesses, however. Identifying them and learning to compensate is one thing, beating yourself up over them and trying to turn them into strengths is another. Instead of putting effort into fixing your weaknesses, concentrate on building your abilities and talents.
Recognize Your Motives
Even if the cause is just, our deep underlying motive is often self-promotion and recognition. Truly effective leaders have learned to sacrifice vanity and pride for the good of those they lead. This is especially true when leading people or teams. Fear, jealousy, and resentment are all motives that hinder leadership. Learning what your true intentions are will help you respond to ideas, obstacles, and crisis objectively.
Checking your motives, however, must be done on a continual basis. Pride can easily sneak in and destroy your leadership. Learn to ask yourself why. Why am I upset? Why don’t I like this idea? Why am I worried? If you find that the underlying answer to those questions is self-preservation, you then have the opportunity to realign your motives and proceed with leading effectively.
Discover Your Passion
Leaders lead best when they are passionate about what they are leading. What is it that gets your fired up? What stirs your heart into action? What’s worth fighting for? Capitalize on your natural zeal. Utilize your passion so that you can communicate and cast your vision to others.
Faking passion in leadership may work for awhile, but the success won’t sustain. Leading something that you don’t care about is a recipe for failure. Before you ever accept or initiate leadership, be sure that you buy into the vision. Believe in your cause. Have faith in the dream.
Self Awareness Basics
As you can see, self-awareness is the basic form of leadership. If you can’t lead yourself, you’ll never be able to lead others. Don’t overlook this foundational principle. Taking the time and effort to learn about who you are and what you’re capable of will go a long way in helping you achieve your leadership goals.