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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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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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