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How Self-Awareness Makes A Leader Successful

How Self-Awareness Makes A Leader Successful
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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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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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