#540  Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 11          November 2001

Mirror Mirror On The Wall
by Sam Geist

Mr. Geist is a professional speaker focusing on business-oriented topics (www.samgeist.com).  He is author of Would You Work For You? (Addington & Wentworth, Naples, Florida, 2001).  

Of course you know yourself!  You would recognize yourself anywhere.  However being really aware of who you are—knowing what is of utmost importance to you, realizing where your strengths and weaknesses lie, being conscious of how your value system stacks up and managing your inner self—is more complicated and has more far-reaching implications to your leadership abilities than might appear at first glance.  If you didn’t know who you really were, would you want to work for you?  Would anyone else?

Self Awareness

Leaders have been applauded for their brainpower and their technical skills.  No one would deny that intelligence and cognitive skills are essential for outstanding leadership.  However, studies by David McClelland and Daniel Goleman indicate emphatically that emotional intelligence, recognizing and managing your own feelings and behaviors, have profound influence on our effectiveness as leaders.  More to the point, Goleman found that emotional intelligence was twice as important as technical skills and IQ for jobs at all levels.  For leaders, it accounts for 85 to 90% of a star performance.

Individuals who are self-aware seldom experience great inconsistency between the way they see themselves and the way people see them.  They are likely to deal with new experiences realistically without much anxiety or discomfort and without the need to “go on the defensive.”  The psychologist Carl Rodgers contended that self-aware people exhibit ten characteristics that would make you want to work for them:

1.  An open-mindedness to new experiences without being defensive.

2.  The ability to change without fear in response to new experiences.

3.  The ability to demonstrate trust in themselves and their feelings, to do what “feels right,” trust their gut instinct.

4.  The ability to seek out new experiences, new challenges, willingly.

5.  Regard themselves positively and accept themselves.

6.  Have a positive regard for others and accept them.

7.  Maintain a sense of being in control of their own lives, responsible for their own actions.

8.  Their lives may be described as enriched, exciting, rewarding, challenging, and meaningful.

9.  They are always stretching and developing more of their capabilities.

10.  They live life fully, striving forward.

Measure yourself against these characteristics.  In which areas do you feel you would benefit from improvement?

Consider the tremendous value of taking a realistic view of yourself.  From a leadership perspective it helps if you see yourself as you really are because this is how others are more likely to see you.  Becoming fully self-aware involves recognizing our skills, abilities, values, needs and goals.  It involves appreciating our own individual qualities: our intelligence, confidence, shyness, imagination.  Of course to be at all valuable, our self-awareness must also involve confronting those negative aspects of our character which would adversely affect our capabilities as leaders.  These include impatience, intolerance, intransigence and lack of empathy.  We then become aware of our interpersonal styles, our motives, assumptions and coping mechanisms.  The benefits to our business of such an outlook are immeasurable.

Examples of Self-Aware Leadership

Just imagine how these principles might work in practice.  As a highly self-aware leader, you decide to alter your schedule so that instead of arriving at work around 9:30 am, you get into the office at 7:00 am.  Very soon you find that you’re accomplishing more in those two-and-a-half hours than you used to in an entire day.

As a highly self-aware leader, you ask for assistance in “crunching the numbers” because your strength is marketing, not accounting.

As a highly self-aware leader, you let your very demanding client do most of the talking and complaining, while you do most of the listening and acquiescing, because you realize they need the chance to “get it out of their system.”

As a highly self-aware leader, you realize your own worth to an organization and expect a competitive salary.  However, you are ready to let a very highly paying job go by because you know you will be unhappy working in a huge, impersonal firm.

As a highly self-aware leader, you are comfortable talking about your strengths and weaknesses, and often look for constructive criticism in order to improve.  Those who are not self-aware see the need to improve as a threat or a sign of failure.

Can your degree of self-awareness be altered?  Certainly! It is a long-term effort, but the rewards to both your business life and your personal life are so substantial it is certainly worth doing.

Ten Steps to Develop Accurate Self-Awareness

1.  Know your strengths and weaknesses.  Get to really know yourself, from the inside out.  Take action to enhance your listening skills, your motivation, your empathy for others—or whatever needs improving.

2.  Focus particularly on the business aspects you want to improve.  Imagine a real business situation in which your heightened emotional skills would be beneficial.  For example, by using a more intuitive listening approach to everyone in meetings—colleagues and subordinates alike—the number of options brought up for discussion could be greatly enhanced.

3.  Assess your behavior in important situations.  Do you react differently to different people—your family, business associates, workers?  Do you react differently in different situations?  Are you patient?  Relaxed?  Distracted?  Bored?  Why?  What can you do to make your behavior more consistent—more positive?

4.  Emulate a role model.  Look for someone who is self-aware, who listens well, whose passions encourage others and whose drive is an excellent example to follow.  Watch closely how that person interacts with others.  Visualize yourself in that person’s role—and picture the way you would conduct yourself in similar circumstances.  “Patterning” is an excellent method to change existing behavior into new, more desirable behavior.

5.  Ask for feedback.  Solicit input from colleagues, staff, friends and family.  Accept their comments as observations and suggestions toward improvement—not as criticism.  Keep in mind that others see you from a different perspective and, in many cases a much more objective perspective than you see yourself.  Research has corroborated this—finding a much higher correlation between the accuracy of feedback and the reality of the situation than there is between your own impression of it and the reality.  Considering the feedback of others widens the window through which you see yourself.

6.  Keep a journal.  Document observations and efforts to change.  Regard lapses as learning experiences.  Regard small improvements as triumphs.  Reread old journal entries to remind yourself of the progress you’ve made.  This method broadens and clarifies perception very quickly.

7.  Practice, practice, practice.  New behavior patterns take time to become automatic.  One day you’ll find you no longer need to think about the behavior you’ve tried to establish; it’s just there.  But be patient.  It takes persistence.

8.  Ask the right questions.  Answers to the “right” questions require reflection and a willingness to improve.  Ask “why?” questions.  Why am I leading the way I am?  Why do I make the decisions I do?  Why do I get angry—impatient?  If I were to leave the organization, what would be the reaction among my colleagues and staff?

9.  Work toward your goal.  Take the “eulogy” test.  What do you want said about you when you “shuffle off this mortal coil?”  Write it down.  Start making the changes necessary to be the person you want to be remembered as.

10.  Take a flexible approach.  Recognize that the person you are now is not the same person you were last year or will be next year.  The environment, our circumstances, our relationships are evolving—they demand change, flexibility.  Remember yourself as you were yesterday, know yourself as you are today and anticipate yourself as you will be tomorrow.  Do the same for all those with whom you come in contact.

Knowing yourself—really knowing who you are—has everything to do with business leadership and nothing to do with business leadership.  Becoming a more self-aware and perceptive person has everything to do with life, no matter where and with whom you live.  The precepts outlined are for everyone, everywhere.  To know thyself precedes the ability to know anyone else.

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