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Know Thyself: Developing Your Inner Leader

One of the most important skills you could develop as a leader is self-awareness—continuously being aware of your thought process and your reactions to those thoughts. It includes understanding and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses. It's difficult work, but when a leader practices self-awareness strategies, it makes a world of difference: Self-aware leaders transform their work cultures and inspire their employees.

To develop your self-awareness, begin by intentionally focusing your attention on the details of your personality and behavior. Self-awareness practices aren't complicated, but they do take practice, time, and effort.

Setting time aside for reflection is difficult, thanks to the tyranny of the urgent. We often feel we could always do something more useful or important with our time. Taking time to develop self-awareness, however, is vital to your success as a leader.

"Interpersonal debrief" is a self-awareness strategy I teach clients, during which they ask themselves six questions after an event:

  1. What went well?
  2. What might I have done differently?
  3. What did I learn about myself?
  4. What did I learn about others?
  5. How could I use what I have learned?
  6. What are my next steps?

Try this fifteen minutes a day for fifteen days, using a journal. As you read your entries after the fifteen days, you'll notice these questions have become habitual—and you'll have increased your self-awareness as a leader.

Use a high-quality personality test or behavioral inventory to examine your tendencies. When analyzing the results, remain open to the feedback. Seeing bad habits in black and white is difficult, but don't let that hinder your exploration. As you become more self-aware, you begin to see aspects of your personality and behavior you didn't notice before—and you make better choices in your thought process before exhibiting any potentially damaging emotional reaction or destructive behavior.

Many leaders overuse their strengths, compromising their performance and even derailing their career. The stronger your talent or skill is, the greater the liability it could be to you. A leader who has strong analytic skills likes to carefully examine all options before making a decision. When she "overuses" her skill, she may become too cautious or over-analytical and miss important opportunities.

"Adjusting the Volume" is a strategy to develop awareness of your strengths. While you work, name the strength you're currently using. Next, decide how much of that strength is needed for this task to be done well. Think of it as adjusting the volume of music for the setting—quiet for background music or loud for a beach party. Choosing how you'll use your strength helps you decide how deeply to dig into details, how fast to push for change, or how accurate you must be before making a decision.

Find individuals willing to give you honest, constructive feedback—and listen, ask questions, and take notes. As you carefully process the feedback later, ask, "What can I learn?" Just because a person gave feedback, it doesn't mean their response is correct. Instead, in their feedback they've explained how they perceived your behavior. Check with others to determine the reliability of the feedback. Finally, remember that only you have the right and ability to decide what to do with the information.

Leaders who practice self-awareness consistently respond mindfully to the challenges before them instead of relying on their instincts, which may be mistaken. They are better leaders, because they understand who they are and how they think.

Written by Tamara Rosier, who has been a college administrator, professor, leadership consultant, high school teacher, and public speaker. She coaches adults and adolescents with ADHD, helps intelligent people refine their social skils, and facilitates leaders as they develop their sills. Tamara received her Ph.D. in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership from Western Michigan Univeristy. She can be reached at [email protected]



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