As a leader and a manager, self-awareness is an essential quality. Daniel Goleman, a leading author on emotional intelligence, said, “If your emotional abilities aren't in hand, if you don't have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can't have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
The majority of our decisions and our behavior are made unconsciously, based on our experience, beliefs, values and biases. Without self-awareness, we allow that process to go unhindered, leading us where it may. And often, those decisions and behaviors are based on emotion, speculation and a less than approximate representation of facts. In addition, being sensitive to the impact we have on others opens the possibility to adjust our behavior to achieve a desired outcome rather than simply having one functional mode. So, how do you cultivate self-awareness?
Strengths, weaknesses and leadership skills assessment
A good way to start working on self-awareness is to assess your strengths and weaknesses. Do this with a blank sheet of paper and reflect on what you’re really good at and what you struggle with the most. Identifying weaknesses and key skills gaps enables you to do two things. First, you can work on improving those weaknesses. Second, you can seek out and leverage others for whom these areas are strengths.
Then, move on to assessing your skills. The grid below shows key management skills that you’ll want to assess. Once you have done the assessment, consider creating a learning plan to build on those leadership skills in which you have the least expertise.
Understanding your communication style is the first step to becoming more aware to the different communication styles and how they impact what people focus on and listen to more attentively. According to Pierre Casse (1), there are four basic communication styles. Each style correlates to a basic value orientation: action, process, people and ideas. These styles can be found in all cultures and indeed, in all people. Realistically, even though we are capable of using all four styles, we tend to have a dominant style which we are more comfortable with. That’s the style we usually revert to under pressure.
Our preferred style is influenced by our personality, cultural background, past experiences, as well as the present context. Each style has particularities which impacts the types of content the person focuses on. These are usually associated with specific personality traits. Find out more about communication styles in this short article and then take the assessment.
There are three basic leadership styles: Autocratic, Democratic and Laissez-Faire (2). Each of these styles has pros and cons. The best leadership calls on all three and applies the most appropriate style in the context of any given situation. As with communication style, we all tend to have a default style. Start by understanding your default style.
The Autocrat maintains control, making decisions directly. They generally provide lots of direct instruction, sometimes to the point of micro-management. They can be Pace setters – often setting a pace which is faster than most people can keep up with. They may choose to withhold information and communicate only what they feel the team “needs to know”.
The Democratic leader shares decision-making and collaborate with others. They strive for consensus and harmony. They tend to be better at leveraging others’ skills and strengths. They share information and communicate regularly.
The Laissez-Faire leader stands back and lets others decide. They have little to no involvement in the day to day of the team. They provide little to no support to their team and they don’t communicate much. Coaching can be considered as a part of Laissez-Faire style – helping team members to find the answer themselves. And sometimes Laissez-Faire leaders are visionaries and expect the team to run with the vision with no further instruction.
Give some thought to what your natural leadership style is. Learn more about when each style is most appropriate and start trying to alternate the style you use based on the situation.
Core beliefs and values
Your deepest beliefs and values influence everything you do. Beliefs can empower us but unfortunately much of the time they can, and often do, handicap us instead. Tony Robbins tells us that “What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are.”
Beliefs like “I am smarter than most people” or “I know the best way to get things done” can empower you but disempower others. Spend some time getting to know your beliefs, and find out more about how you can change the ones that are holding you back.
Your values impact your behavior and your decisions, but they also hold the key to what motivates you. Some examples of values are: Respect, Education, Power, Money, Harmony, Structure, Hard work and Honesty. If you think about it, you can see that any one of these values can have a strong impact on your decisions and priorities. Spend some time assessing your values. You’ll be more engaged, more motivated when your work environment is in synch with your values. When feeling demotivated, it’s a good idea to check for dissonance between values and the current situation.
A word about bias to close the chapter on self-awareness. Bias is prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. If you think you have no biases – THINK AGAIN. We all have unconscious bias – and yeah, that means you aren’t aware of it. But it is possible to realize that there are certain things, types of people, situations, attitudes, appearances which rub you the wrong way.
Understanding your biases can be critical to treating people fairly in the workplace. Unconsciously, you could be privileging team members who are “more like you” and giving the short end of the stick to team members who are different in ways that bother you unconsciously. Bias generally starts with a difference. Start to take notice of the differences between yourself and others that make you uncomfortable or angry or simply disinterested. Once you become aware of a bias it is easier to take steps to keep it from impacting your decisions without all the facts.
In summary, the more you learn about yourself, the more you can take control over unconscious decisions and behavior patterns that are making you an ineffective manager. The good news is, this work will help you improve yourself not only at work but also in your personal relationships since all the same principles apply.
1 Pierre Casse, Training for the Cross Cultural Mind, SETAR 1981
2 Lewin, Lippit, White, 1939