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How to lead with self-awareness and why it matters

Everyone knows it’s good to be self-aware and understand the impact and influence that you have on others. But it’s easy to downplay self-awareness as a ‘soft’ skill – and miss the hard-nosed impact it can have on business results.

A study by Korn/Ferry International found companies with higher rates of return on stock tend to have employees with a high level of self-awareness. While employees at companies that perform poorly are 79% more likely to have low self-awareness.

Self-awareness is clearly far more than a nice-to-have. And, as ever, leaders have a special role to play in practising and promoting this key quality.

Let’s remember, when you’re in charge, you have a high impact on whatever you do. So, it’s useful to think of self-awareness as a way to make sure this impact is positive. It can help you avoid being too rigid in your management style, for example. And it helps you avoid the bias or blind spots that could get in the way of good problem-solving. All traits that will support the motivation of a successful team.

In this blog, I’m going to explore some of the ways you can grow self-awareness. And reflect on the benefits that can come from it.

Practising self-awareness. Spreading positivity.

Before you can fine-tune the influence, you have, you need to understand the impact you’re currently having. This means getting to know your strengths and your weaknesses.

A practical step that I have taken is to turn my CV into an infographic that goes beyond capturing just the successes and roles that I’ve had to a point where it summarises my strengths, skills, competencies and highlights my personal values. A strong leader should be aware of these key points to ensure they can factor them into the decisions they are making. By understanding your strengths, you’ll also know where you need to engage others to compensate in areas where you may need support.

The ARt of Powerful Questions.pngOur roles in making good decisions and coach others to do the same

As you make the key decisions that will often define your teams’ success, we should also take some time to consider the impact and consequences of those decisions (both intended and unintended). This is an example of going beyond your instincts and testing your intuition to make sure you can trust it. Intuition has tremendous value. But engaging more critical thinking in tandem will get the best results.

In decision making, it’s also important that you recognise your own emotional triggers. What are they and how do you manage them? Answering these questions can also be a useful exercise. Getting to know your own reactions can help you to avoid knee-jerk responses and think more clearly.

Self-awareness is also intrinsically linked to being open-minded. You need this mindset to interrogate your own strengths and limitations (as above). It’s also the attitude that means you are open to ideas and the fact that you can learn from anyone (more on this below).

Finally, you can get an insight into the impact you have on people by asking yourself if your actions match your intentions. People ultimately respond to how you behave. So, a self-aware leader is likely to practise discipline – e.g. turning up on time, being prepared, completing their actions, etc. These are the small things that define who you are (at least in the eyes of those around you).

Coaching yourself

Self-awareness helps you understand yourself and your impact. But it is also key to continuing to learn and grow. It’s the quality that enables you to listen and look for ways to improve.

This doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your intuition. Far from it. It can mean sharpening your intuitive responses and routinely testing them (to avoid bias).

Here’s a selection of effective techniques that I’ve come across over the years to help leaders grow into their roles.

Listen like you’re wrong

This is all about interrogating your own position and getting the benefit of an outside view.

Consistently seek feedback

If you see yourself from the viewpoint of others, you can get a good understanding of what you’re good at and areas where you could improve. One of the ways to do this for yourself or members of your team is to initiate a 360-degree review. I do this for new starters when they reach milestone dates within the organisation and I’ve completed them myself. My top tip is that it’s key that this is a collaborative effort and not just one view and that the results are written down for clarity. From this position of knowledge, you can then look for ways to improve yourself or build a team that complements your strengths and compensates for your weaknesses.

Ask ‘what do you want people to know, feel, and do?’

This is a great way to unpick your communications and manage the impact they have. In other words, are you coming across in the way that you intend?

Practise intentional decision-making

A theme of this blog is adding some slow thinking to your fast thoughts. Weigh up the pros and cons of your decisions. So, you’re sure why you made them.

Stay curious

Another approach that makes you ask questions of yourself. In this case, the powerful questions what, how, and why. You can also routinely seek out collaboration to solve problems or come up with a broader range of ideas.

Be graciously disruptive

It’s good to call out problems and find better ways when you see them. But are you explaining why? Are you offering solutions and making it clear that decisions are not personal?

In parallel to all these methods, I think it also stands leaders in good stead to continue to define and develop their values. Ultimately, these will be your compass as you navigate change and challenges.

Creating an environment of trust

A great thing about self-awareness is that it can lead to more self-awareness in others. Lead by example and your team is likely to become more self-aware. This can then translate into a more open and honest environment to work in. One where teamwork thrives, and people can be more productive. A safe space, where people feel they can push boundaries without crossing lines.

Staying conscious of the impact you’re having, looking for ways to grow, and behaving in a self-aware manner are therefore integral to building a successful team.

As a leader, then, self-awareness can help you progress and develop personally. But it also has an incredibly positive impact on those around you. And, as it starts to affect behaviour and outlook, it can be a trait that improves the fortunes of both individuals and the business they work for.

If you’ve got any views or advice on leading with self-awareness, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to share your thoughts below.