Practice Self-Awareness Early and Often

Few things are more important to leadership than self-awareness. Self-awareness reveals what works and what does not work for us and helps us understand where we can add value and feel fulfilled. Self-awareness is also the foundation of emotional intelligence, which is essential to engaging others and fostering teamwork. The benefits of self-awareness are significant! Self-aware people communicate and influence better, produce more, maintain better relationships, and are overall more successful and happier than less self-aware colleagues.

Sounds great, right? We each have strengths and less desirable qualities. However, admitting and embracing what’s not-so-great about us can be hard to do. The truth about us is inevitable; whatever it is, it eventually emerges. The goal of self-awareness is to seek the truth about who we really are early and often. Here are three keys to gaining – and sustaining – a level of self-awareness that gets real results:

  1. Take your “medicine.”
    Having the courage to look honestly at our weaker areas is fundamental to self-awareness. In Peter Pan, Mr. Darling covertly feeds his medicine to their dog, Nana, and understandably so. The medicine likely tastes terrible. Similarly, our negative habits and shortcomings can be tough to stomach. Most self-defeating patterns of behavior are hidden from us, and we like it that way. Fearing the truth about ourselves makes us more defensive, rigid and constricted, making it harder for other people to work with us. Self-awareness requires us to withhold judgment of ourselves and engage in genuine exploration of how our behavior affects ourselves and other people.

  2. Mind strengths more effectively.
    Self-awareness also requires a clear-eyed examination of our strengths. Many of us underappreciate our strengths. Some of us over-rely on, and over-use our strengths, and end up in trouble. Self-awareness requires us to take stock and more consciously deploy our strengths for better results.

  3. Apply mindful attention and conscious effort to becoming more self-aware.
    Like any skill, improving self-awareness takes practice. Here are the most effective ways to practice:

    • Engage in activities that promote self-reflection - Assessments like the Hogan, StrengthsFinder, Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i), and others do just that. We are really partial to the Enneagram (and we will tell you why later).

    • Observe yourself. - First, consider where your attention focuses in different circumstances. Do you tend to find fault? Focus on relationships? Think about how you are affected? Second, get to know your triggers. As Carl Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others tells us something about ourselves.” Third, catch yourself. Once you get to a point of being able to observe yourself and say, “Oh, look, that’s me doing that thing that I do, again,” you are on the right path. We need to call ourselves on our beliefs that are simply not true and allow ourselves to be human.

    • Check what you believe about yourself against what you actually do. - Ask yourself, “Does my behavior really match my picture of who I believe myself to be?” If I see myself as a good coach and mentor to my direct reports, yet I resist scheduling time to consistently meet with them one-on-one, am I really delivering on my intention? Just because I was an athlete in college doesn’t mean I can run a 5K now. Sometimes, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves become ingrained. Moving away from them requires that we check “our truth” as much as possible against our reality.

    • Learn to pay attention to how others really experience you. - Leaders often discover blind spots about their behavior through a 360-feedback process. Sometimes, we are fortunate to discover that people appreciate strengths more than we expected. Other times, we learn that people experience us as more intimidating, critical indecisive, etc. than we see ourselves. If you find a blind spot, ask a trusted colleague to give you feedback when they see you improving or regressing. If you find you have a hidden strength, learn from this to sustain and grow the value you provide.

As we become more self-aware, and truly see the motivation behind our behaviors and our ingrained patterns, we open the door to choice. That leads to more success and fulfillment, and makes working with us (and living with us) a much better experience.