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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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The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

The Productivity Paradox: What Is It And How Can We Move Beyond It?

It’s a depressing adage we’ve all heard time and time again: An increase in technology does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity.

Put another way by Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate in economics,

“You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”

In other words, just because our computers are getting faster, that doesn’t mean that that we will have an equivalent leap in productivity. In fact, the opposite may be true!

New York Times writer Matt Richel wrote in an article for the paper back in 2008 that stated, “Statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.”

There’s a strange paradox when it comes to productivity. Rather than an exponential curve, our productivity will eventually reach a plateau, even with advances in technology.

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So what does that mean for our personal levels of productivity? And what does this mean for our economy as a whole? Here’s what you should know about the productivity paradox, its causes, and what possible solutions we may have to combat it.

What is the productivity paradox?

There is a discrepancy between the investment in IT growth and the national level of productivity and productive output. The term “productivity paradox” became popularized after being used in the title of a 1993 paper by MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson, a Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and the Director of the MIT Center for Digital Business.

In his paper, Brynjolfsson argued that while there doesn’t seem to be a direct, measurable correlation between improvements in IT and improvements in output, this might be more of a reflection on how productive output is measured and tracked.[1]

He wrote in his conclusion:

“Intangibles such as better responsiveness to customers and increased coordination with suppliers do not always increase the amount or even intrinsic quality of output, but they do help make sure it arrives at the right time, at the right place, with the right attributes for each customer.

Just as managers look beyond “productivity” for some of the benefits of IT, so must researchers be prepared to look beyond conventional productivity measurement techniques.”

How do we measure productivity anyway?

And this brings up a good point. How exactly is productivity measured?

In the case of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity gain is measured as the percentage change in gross domestic product per hour of labor.

But other publications such as US Today, argue that this is not the best way to track productivity, and instead use something called Total Factor Productivity (TFP). According to US Today, TFP “examines revenue per employee after subtracting productivity improvements that result from increases in capital assets, under the assumption that an investment in modern plants, equipment and technology automatically improves productivity.”[2]

In other words, this method weighs productivity changes by how much improvement there is since the last time productivity stats were gathered.

But if we can’t even agree on the best way to track productivity, then how can we know for certain if we’ve entered the productivity paradox?

Possible causes of the productivity paradox

Brynjolfsson argued that there are four probable causes for the paradox:

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  • Mis-measurement – The gains are real but our current measures miss them.
  • Redistribution – There are private gains, but they come at the expense of other firms and individuals, leaving little net gain.
  • Time lags – The gains take a long time to show up.
  • Mismanagement – There are no gains because of the unusual difficulties in managing IT or information itself.

There seems to be some evidence to support the mis-measurement theory as shown above. Another promising candidate is the time lag, which is supported by the work of Paul David, an economist at Oxford University.

According to an article in The Economist, his research has shown that productivity growth did not accelerate until 40 years after the introduction of electric power in the early 1880s.[3] This was partly because it took until 1920 for at least half of American industrial machinery to be powered by electricity.”

Therefore, he argues, we won’t see major leaps in productivity until both the US and major global powers have all reached at least a 50% penetration rate for computer use. The US only hit that mark a decade ago, and many other countries are far behind that level of growth.

The paradox and the recession

The productivity paradox has another effect on the recession economy. According to Neil Irwin,[4]

“Sky-high productivity has meant that business output has barely declined, making it less necessary to hire back laid-off workers…businesses are producing only 3 percent fewer goods and services than they were at the end of 2007, yet Americans are working nearly 10 percent fewer hours because of a mix of layoffs and cutbacks in the workweek.”

This means that more and more companies are trying to do less with more, and that means squeezing two or three people’s worth of work from a single employee in some cases.

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According to Irwin, “workers, frightened for their job security, squeezed more productivity out of every hour [in 2010].”

Looking forward

A recent article on Slate puts it all into perspective with one succinct observation:

“Perhaps the Internet is just not as revolutionary as we think it is. Sure, people might derive endless pleasure from it—its tendency to improve people’s quality of life is undeniable. And sure, it might have revolutionized how we find, buy, and sell goods and services. But that still does not necessarily mean it is as transformative of an economy as, say, railroads were.”

Still, Brynjolfsson argues that mismeasurement of productivity can really skew the results of people studying the paradox, perhaps more than any other factor.

“Because you and I stopped buying CDs, the music industry has shrunk, according to revenues and GDP. But we’re not listening to less music. There’s more music consumed than before.

On paper, the way GDP is calculated, the music industry is disappearing, but in reality it’s not disappearing. It is disappearing in revenue. It is not disappearing in terms of what you should care about, which is music.”

Perhaps the paradox isn’t a death sentence for our productivity after all. Only time (and perhaps improved measuring techniques) will tell.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

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