Do you know yourself well enough to be a great leader?
At some point we’ve all thought about the qualities of a great leader based on our experience with a poor leader. A heartless boss, a hypocritical politician, a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do parent. Sometimes the absence of admirable qualities makes us all the more aware of what we admire. We intrinsically know the qualities of great leadership. And self-awareness tops the list.
You know what it’s like to be under someone else’s authority. A teacher, coach, manager – anyone charged with influencing an outcome by directing the behavior of others can wield a lot of power. And that power can shape more than just your salary or performance in the classroom or on the field.
Leadership isn’t limited to those with direct authority or power. It’s a quality that is cultivated (or starkly absent) in anyone who exudes influence in the lives of others. When someone is a leader in name or by appointment only, everyone suffers. But, when someone blends leadership and self-awareness into an expression of personal integrity, all things become possible.
The beauty of leadership is that it’s a quality available to everyone, regardless of professional rank. And it’s applicable to every area of life.
But, no matter what area of life calls upon your leadership, your leadership will always call upon your self-awareness.
Self-awareness is a component of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to recognize your own emotions, thoughts, and values and to understand how they impact your own behavior. This means being in-tune with your inner-workings and not simply going through life as a victim of yourself and your circumstances.
Think for a moment of what it would be like to trust a “leader” who has no concept of his own anger triggers. Or a “leader” who can’t recognize the signs of overwhelm and ends up not being able to make decisions. Or a “leader” who uses racial or bigoted language because “that’s how he grew up,” and he never took the time to question it.
These so-called leaders may have a position or title. But they don’t have the qualities of leadership. And self-awareness is the most essential missing ingredient that leads to all the others.
A true leader is grounded in an awareness of his or her strengths and weaknesses. This humility – this honest self-assessment – is at the heart of what’s called “the trinity of self-awareness”: know thyself, improve thyself, complement thyself.
Only when you are aware of your own strengths and weaknesses can you strategically apply that knowledge to the benefit of your circumstances.
Obviously you want to capitalize on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses while working to improve on them. Pretending that your weaknesses don’t exist will only breed confusion, hypocrisy, disloyalty, and failure.
It’s precisely this self-awareness that inspires trust and loyalty in others. When others look to you and see that you’re confident in your strengths, they’re inspired to emulate you. And, when they see that you’re humble about your weaknesses, they learn how to self-improve without fear or shame.
In this way, you bring your strengths to the table to serve the greater good. You become an example to be admired and followed, not an authority to be blindly obeyed.
It’s obvious that leadership and self-awareness can lead to success in the workplace. But what about other areas of life, like your personal relationships?
In order to understand leadership and self-awareness in a more personal context, it’s important to make a shift in the perception of leadership.
Too often we think in terms of “leaders” and “followers.” The first have their act together, and the others default to walking in their shadow.
But leadership doesn’t imply superiority or even authority. And the self-awareness at the heart of it serves the greater good as well as the individual.
Emotional intelligence implies not only the ability to be aware of emotions, but to appropriately apply and manage them. It also implies the ability to recognize and help manage emotions in others. And this is the foundation of empathy.
How can you recognize the facial expressions of sadness or fear in someone else if you deny those emotions in yourself? How can you extend compassion and create an emotionally safe space for someone else if you scorn your own vulnerability?
Self-awareness is essential to integrity, and integrity is the inspiration for loyalty. Only when you can recognize your feelings, thoughts, and values and their connection to your behavior can you objectively assess your choices.
Are you acting in accordance with your values? And are you empowering others by the consistent application of your strengths and your openness to feedback on your weaknesses?
This connection between leadership and self-awareness extends to communication, as well. If you can’t recognize and identify your own feelings, how can you possibly manage their expression? And, if you can’t exercise self-control when you don’t like how you feel, how successful will your communication be?
Consider that in any relationship – personal or professional – the only entity over which you have control is yourself. Attempting to skip over the work of self-awareness and go straight to managing others will be disastrous from the get-go.
The success of any interaction will come down to your ability to modulate your own words and behavior based on an intently cultivated self-awareness. This includes that essential but often neglected component of communication: listening.
Leadership isn’t limited to those elected to public office or doling out company policy from the C-suite. It’s a character quality hard-earned through self-reflection and practice. And it finds its expression in every area of life that connects you to your values.
Whether you’re managing a sales team, directing strangers through a life-saving rescue, resolving a conflict with a friend, or encouraging your child in their attempt to master math, leadership qualities will determine your success.
And the best way to develop those leadership qualities? Learn how to be more self-aware.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn and I’m a life coach. Schedule a 30-minute private consultation for support in cultivating greater self-awareness and stepping more fully into your role as a leader.