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How Self-Awareness Makes A Leader Successful

How Self-Awareness Makes A Leader Successful

When you think of a leader, you think of a self-assured and confident person. You might not think of someone who contemplates the Why of their actions or the mistakes they’ve made.

But in reality, leaders, like all human beings, don’t have all the answers, and are, in fact, often wrong or fundamentally flawed. The difference is that the most successful ones are aware of this. That is why they succeed.

Self-awareness is essential to leadership. It helps you get better, because you know how well you currently are doing. It helps you make the right decisions, because you know your blind spots. It helps you do great work, because you remember past mistakes and address them. Being self-aware is being self-knowledgeable.

Whether you are a manager, a teacher, or a parent, in order to lead others, you need to first be aware enough to lead yourself.

Here are some inspiring leaders and how they’ve used self-awareness to become better.

Know Your Compass

Whole Foods is growing rapidly, has a thriving employee culture, and a fanatic customer base (guilty as charged). John Mackey, the Co-CEO and founder of the company, has grown it from a two-story shop in Austin, Texas, to one of the most well-known brands in food.

As the leader of the company, Mackey looks inward whenever making a business decision. He know what he and his company stand for, and what motivates them.

For Mackey and Whole Foods, a few things are supremely important: purpose, customer loyalty and employee engagement. Here’s Mackey from an interview talking about how a company can find its compass:

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The first step…is to clearly define its higher purpose beyond maximizing profits. It should then start to design everything it does around creating value for its stakeholders. It should get rid of all metrics that are not connected to value creation for stakeholders. It should then create new metrics that are leading indicators of future performance, measures such as employee passion and customer advocacy.

Know what is important to you, what motivates you and what your values. Then remind yourself of all of this whenever you are leading people or leading yourself. Find and use your compass always.

Think About Your Experiences

Richard Branson is the type of leader who will have a meeting while sky-diving. The man isn’t afraid to fail, and as his entrepreneurship record shows, he actually thrives on it. Yet he is also self-aware enough to know when he was wrong.

One example is when he tried to disrupt the soda market by introducing Virgin Cola in the mid-90s. It was mildly successful, but eventually fizzled out. Looking back, he realizes why that venture was never meant to be:

We started out with so much ambition…

 

But we realized that we’d failed to adhere to our own rules. Virgin specializes in shaking up industries where consumers are getting a raw deal, but there was no great dissatisfaction with Coca-Cola, Pepsi or the other soft drink brands at the time…So the business was a financial failure.

 

We were so intent on repeating our model that led to previous successes that we didn’t notice the problems with our idea. But we always learn from our failures, which makes us better at being self-aware.

Branson, like Mackey, knew his compass well, but in this instance, he didn’t pay enough attention to it. After this failure turned into a lesson learned, he’s able to better understand his own blind spots as a leader.

Embrace Your Failures

The meteoric rise of President Barack Obama has been attributed to many things: his soaring speeches, his cool and calm demeanor, his pretty decent comedic timing (seriously, look up his White House Correspondent Dinners). But he’s also very self-aware, especially when it comes to his short-comings.

During the 2008 campaign, after a disastrous debate performance against Governor Mitt Romney, his whole campaign was in crisis mode. The worst of it was that he looked dispirited and unsure.

Here is Obama reacting to his campaign managers’ frantic pleas to change his debate style, from the book Double Down:

Last night wasn’t good, and I know that. Here’s why I think I’m having trouble. I’m having a hard time squaring up what I know I need to do, what you guys are telling me I need to do, with where my mind takes me, which is: I’m a lawyer, and I want to argue things out. I want to peel back layers…

 

It’s against my instincts just to perform. It’s easy for me to slip back into what I know, which is basically to dissect arguments. I think when I talk. It can be halting. I start slow. It’s hard for me to just go into my answer. I’m having to teach my brain to function differently.

 

I can’t tell you that ‘Okay, I woke up today, I knew I needed to do better, and I’ll do better…I am wired in a different way than this event requires.

 

I just don’t know if I can do this.

This proved to be a cataclysmic moment for the campaign. There was still work ahead for him, but by acknowledging his failure, and the fears he had, he was better equipped to do something about it. He had defined the problem.

Understanding your flaws doesn’t mean you accept them and do nothing else. It means you are aware that they are there, and you need to work on them in order to become a better leader. Surprisingly, many leaders cannot accept their deficiencies in the first place, much less accept there’s work to do.

How To Become More Self-Aware

There are a few ways you can be more introspective in your work as a leader. Here are three ways that will get you far in becoming more self-aware.

Test Yourself

There are numerous tests that can help you better understand your internal mechanics: your thinking style, your behaviors, your strengths, and your personality. Here are a few good ones, many of which you can find for free online:

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– Myers Briggs: one of the most well known tests. It can be very helpful, because it tells you a lot about how you naturally work and communicate with others–something you must always be aware of as a leader.

– DISC: A test growing in popularity. This test helps you understand your behaviors and personality, how you approach your work, respond to conflict, and work with others.

– Strengthsfinder: One of my personal favorites. This test finds your natural strengths. Strengths are modes of thinking or types of work that you thrive on.

Write

There’s a reason why writing is an often recommended therapeutic exercise. When you write, you explore your inner world.

Committing to a habit of writing every day can dramatically increase your level of self-awareness. I encourage trying free-writing, which is to write without thinking too much about it and with no intention to publish or show it to anyone. It’s for you and that’s it. Free-writing a few pages will explore your subconscious, your fears, your joys and everything in between.

Tell Your Stories

Just like free-writing, telling your life stories can help you find out what makes you tick. By re-telling what happened to you, now as an observer of the past, you often find hidden or lost truths. You learn what has made you the person you are today.

You can do this by writing out various stories from your life. Think of stories from your childhood, college years, first job out of school, or any other time in the past. Then just write out the story.

You can also do this by telling your story to an attentive listener. A friend, family member or even a therapist. Part of what makes therapy so powerful is that you have the full attention of the person sitting across from you.

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Featured photo credit: barackobamadotcom via flickr.com

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Published on January 16, 2019

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

How to Effectively Manage a Heavy Workload at Work

We’re all busy, but sometimes we go through periods where the work piles up and it seems like it might never end.

You might have such a heavy workload that it feels too intimidating to even start.

You may have said yes to some or too many projects, and now you’re afraid you won’t be able to deliver.

That’s when you need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and start looking at what’s working and what’s not working.

Here’re 13 strategies you can use to get out from under your overwhelming workload:

1. Acknowledge You Can’t Do It All

Many of us have a tendency to think we can do more than we actually can. We take on more and more projects and responsibility and wear numerous hats.

We all have the opportunity to have and take on more work than we can reasonably expect to get done. Unfortunately, our workload is not static. Even now, while you are reading this article, I’m guessing that your inbox is filling up with fresh new tasks.

To make real, effective progress, you have to have both the courage and resourcefulness to say, “This is not working”. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all and look for better solutions.

At any given time in your life, there are likely many things that aren’t going according to plan. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself and those around you about what’s not working for you, both personally and professionally.

The more you exercise your ability to tell the truth about what’s working and what’s not working, the faster you’ll make progress.

2. Focus on Your Unique Strengths

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a leader or working as part of a team, every individual has unique strengths they can bring to the table.

The challenge is that many people end up doing things that they’re simply not very good at.

In the pursuit of reaching your goals or delivering a project, people end up doing everything themselves or taking on things that don’t play to their unique strengths. This can result in frustration, overwhelm and overwork.

It can mean projects taking a lot longer to complete because of knowledge gaps, or simply not utilizing the unique strengths of other people you work with.

It is often not about how to complete this project more effectively but who can help deliver this project.

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So, what are your unique strengths that will ensure your workload is delivered more effectively? Here’re some questions to help you reflect:

  • Are you a great strategist?
  • Are you an effective planner?
  • Is Project Management your strength?
  • Is communication and bringing people together your strength?
  • Are you the ideas person?
  • Is Implementation your strength?

Think about how you can bring the biggest value to your work and the projects you undertake.

3. Use the Strengths of Your Team

One of the simplest ways to manage your workload effectively is to free up your time so you bring your highest level of energy, focus and strengths to each project.

Delegation or better teamwork is the solution.

Everyone has unique strengths. It’s essential to think teamwork rather than working in isolation to ensure projects can be completed effectively. Besides, every time you give away a task or project that doesn’t play to your unique strengths, you open up an opportunity to do something you’re more talented at. This will empower both yourself and those around you.

Rather than taking on all the responsibilities yourself, look at who you can work with to deliver the best results possible.

4. Take Time for Planning

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. – Abraham Lincoln

One hour of effective planning could save hours of time. Rather than just rushing in and getting started on projects, take the time to map everything in.

You can take the time to think about:

  • What’s the purpose of the project?
  • How Important is it?
  • When does it need to be delivered by?
  • What is the best result and worst result for this project?
  • What are the KPIs?
  • What does the project plan and key milestones look like?
  • Who is working on this project?
  • What is everyone’s responsibilities?
  • What tolerances can I add in?
  • What are the review stages?
  • What are the challenges we may face and the solutions for these challenges?

Having absolute clarity on the project, the project deliverables and the result you want can save a lot of time. It also gets you clear on the priorities and timelines, so you can block out the required amount of time to focus and concentrate.

5. Focus on Priorities

Not everything is a priority, although it can often feel, in the moment, that it is.

Whatever you’re working on, there is always the Most Urgent, Important or Most Valuable projects or tasks.

One tool you can use to maximize your productivity and focus on your biggest priorities is to use the Eisenhower Matrix. This strategic tool for taking action on the things that matter most is simple. You separate your actions based on four possibilities:

  1. Urgent and important (tasks you will do immediately).
  2. Important, but not urgent (tasks you will schedule to do later).
  3. Urgent, but not important (tasks you will delegate to someone else).
  4. Neither urgent nor important (tasks that you will eliminate).

James Clear has a great description on how to use the Eisenhower Matrix: How to be More Productive By Using the Eisenhower Box

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    The method I use with my coaching clients is to ask them to lay out their Top Five priorities for the day. Then to start with the most important priority first. At the end of the day, you review performance against these priorities.

    If you didn’t get everything accomplished, start the next day with your number one priority.

    If you are given additional task/projects during the day, then you will need to gauge their importance V the other priorities.

    6. Take Time Out

    To stay on top of a heavy workload, it’s important to take time out to rest and recuperate.

    If your energy levels are high and your mind and body is refreshed and alert, you are in more of a peak state to handle a heavy workload.

    Take time out of your day to go for a walk or get some exercise in. Leave early when possible and spend time with people who give you a lot of energy.

    In the background, it’s essential to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthily to sharpen the mind.

    Take a look at this article learn about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    7. Maintain a Healthy Work-Life Balance

    Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be tough. The balance we all crave is very different from one another.

    I’ve written before about 13 Work Life Balance Tips for a Happy and Productive Life. Working longer and harder doesn’t mean achieving more, especially if you have no time to spend with the people that matter most. The quality of who you are as a person, the relationships you have, the time you spend in work, deciding on what matters most is completely within your control.

    Work-life balance is about finding peace within yourself to be fully present, wherever you are, whether that be in the office or at home, right now. It’s about choosing what matters most and creating your own balanced life.

    If you feel there is not enough balance, then it may be time to make a change.

    8. Stop Multitasking

    Multi-tasking is a myth. Your brain simply can’t work effectively by doing more than one thing at a time—at least more than one thing that requires focused attention.

    So get your list of priorities (see earlier point), do the most important thing first, then move to the next item and work down your list.

    When you split your focus over a multitude of different areas, you can’t consistently deliver a high performance. You won’t be fully present on the one task or project at hand.

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    If you allocate blocked time and create firm boundaries for specific activities and commitments, you won’t feel so overwhelmed or overworked with everything you have to do.

    9. Work in Blocks of Time

    To keep your energy up to produce your best results it’s essential to take regular breaks.

    I use the 60-60-30 method myself and teach it to my coaching clients.

    Work on a project for a sustained period of 50 minutes.

    Then take a 10-minute break. This could be taking a walk, having a healthy snack or just having a conversation with someone.

    Then continue to work on the project for a further 50 minutes.

    Then take another 10-minute break.

    Then take a complete 30-minute break to unplug from the work. This could be time for a proper lunch, a quick bit of exercise, reading or having a walk.

    By simply taking some time out, your energy levels stay up, the quality of your work improves and you reduce the risk of becoming burned out.

    10. Get Rid of Distractions

    Make an estimation on how many times you are distracted during an average working day. Now take that number and multiply it by 25. According to Gloria Mark in her study on The Cost of Interrupted Work, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after interruption.[1]

    “Our research has shown that attention distraction can lead to higher stress, a bad mood and lower productivity.”

    Distractions don’t just take up your time during the distraction, they can derail your mental progress and focus for almost 25 minutes. So, if you are distracted 5 times per day, you could be losing almost 2 hours every day of productive work and almost 10 hours every week.

    If you have an important project to work on, find a space where you won’t be distracted, or try doing this.

    11. Commit Focused Time to Smaller Tasks

    You know sometimes, you need to simply tackle these tasks and take action on them. But there’s always something more pressing.

    Small tasks can often get in the way of your most important projects. They sit there on your daily To Do list but are often forgotten about because of more important priorities or because they hold no interest for you. But they take up mental energy. They clutter your mind.

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    Commit to spending a specific period of time completing all the small tasks you have on your To Do list. It will give you peace of mind and the space to focus more on your bigger priorities.

    12. Take a Time Audit

    Do you know exactly where your time is going each day? Are you spending too long on certain projects and tasks to the detriment of bigger opportunities?

    Spend a bit of time to analyze where you are spending your time. This insight will amaze you and give you the clarity to start adjusting where you focus your time and on what projects.

    You can start by taking a piece of paper and creating three columns:

    Column A is Priority Work. Column B is Good Work. Column C is low value work or stuff.

    Each day, write down the project or task and the time spent on each. Allocate that time to one of the columns.

    At the end of the week, record the total time spent in each column.

    If you are spending far too much time on certain types of work, look to change things so your focused time is in Column B and C.

    13. Protect Your Confidence

    It is essential to protect our confidence to ensure we don’t get overwhelmed, stressed and lose belief.

    When you have confidence as a daily resource, you are in a better position to problem solve, learn quicker, respond to anything, adjust to anything, and achieve your biggest opportunities.

    Confidence gives you the ability to transform fear into focused and relaxed thinking, communication, and action. This is key to put your mind into a productive state.

    When confidence is high, you can clearly see the possibilities at hand and create strategies to take advantage of them, or to solve the challenges you face each day.

    Final Words

    A heavy workload can be tough to deal with and can cause stress, burnout and ongoing frustration.

    The key is to tackle it head on, rather than let it go on and compound the long-term effects. Hopefully, you can take action on at least one of these tips.

    If it gets too much, and negatively affects your physical and mental health, it may be time to talk to someone. Instead of dealing with it alone and staying unhappier, resentful and getting to a point where you simply can’t cope, you have to make a change for your own sanity.

    Featured photo credit: Hannah Wei via unsplash.com

    Reference

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