Self – Awareness

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“You are not really self-aware are you Mr. Carson?” – Mrs. Hughes.  This line took me out of my seat.  I had never heard it in a dramatic series.  I was ecstatic because leadership pundits use the words ‘self-awareness’ quite frequently.  Mr. Carson is the fearless leader of the butlers, cooks and footmen of Downton Abbey.

My wife has pulled me into Downton Abbey and I must admit I really enjoy the series.  Mostly because of the inter-personal and psychological dynamics within the various groups.

What is self-awareness?  Why does it matter as we interact at work?  Why are self-aware leaders lauded?

Self-awareness is having a clear understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, values, derailing behavior and interests.  A self-aware leader is able to ‘manage’ all of these dynamics and put them forth at work and at home to create outcomes.  Essentially self-awareness is understanding our personality.

Hogan Assessments would say that the greatest gift a company can give its high potential leaders, emerging leaders, managers or executives is strategic self-awareness generated through a personality assessment.

In fact, Stanford Business School leaders cited the top requirement for a leader is self-awareness.

So why then do leaders struggle with self – awareness?

1. Mirrors Scare Us:  As we age it can be hard to look in the mirror and it can be even harder when someone holds up a mirror to us in a conversation.  We may subconsciously see the bad behavior, yet we see no other path. We feel even more exposed when someone else sees that behavior.

The chart below supports the need for self-aware leaders to seek feedback:

Self Awareness JPEG

2. Performance vs. Worth: Keep in mind when you receive feedback to gain self-awareness, the feedback delivered is about your performance not your worth as a person.  Try not to be too sensitive. Learn from it, own it and move on!

3. Intent vs. Impact: It is not always prudent to bring your greatest strength to the table at full throttle.  In fact, you may need to reduce the throttle on that strength to have a greater impact.  Even if your intent is to do good, the impact may actually demoralize your team.

4. Overly Focused:  If you know anything about Mr. Carson, you know that he is heavily regimented.  This serves a very strong purpose for the staff at the Abbey.  However, when it comes to relationships, he can miss the boat.

This quote from Cordon Curphy sums this up perfectly:

“There are plenty of people who are leadership legends in their own minds, who are charismatically challenged in the eyes of others.”

Use self-awareness to improve your leadership performance.   You may find that a slight adjustment could create an even better outcome.  You may also find that the answer to that challenge is right in front of you.