Why Leaders Need Self-Awareness

At Kindall Evolve, we are deeply committed to cultivating leaders who fully embrace empathy so they can transform their team and company culture. We intentionally focus on developing leaders because these individuals have a significant impact on the people, systems, vision, culture and results of an organization. Leaders set the tone and mirror what is acceptable within an organization. Leaders create compelling visions that inspire the people on their teams. Ultimately, they hold an organization’s keys to success.  

From years of working with leaders at every level, studying leadership and conducting research, we know there are several key factors that hold leaders back from being their best and getting the best from their people.  One of those key factors is self-awareness.

Dr. Tasha Eurich, an industrial psychologist who has conducted research on self-awareness, looks at self-awareness in two ways: internal and external. Internal self-awareness is knowing yourself, your values, and your aspirations; external self-awareness is knowing how other people see you and how you impact others. In her research, she’s discovered that people who work on both internal awareness and external awareness have much more success in their personal and professional lives. 

Why is self-awareness so critical for leaders?

When our founder Jackie Kindall was an internal HR Director, she supported a leader who thought he was great at leading people.  However, over a short period of time, 70% of his team resigned and cited that he was the reason they were leaving the organization.  This, of course, got her attention in HR and caused immense concern amongst the senior leadership team.

When provided with feedback, he was resistant and extremely defensive. He disagreed with most of what was said and felt that it was nonsense. Instead of acknowledging that there were areas that he needed to develop and making a commitment to changing his behavior, he dug his heels in and continued leading as he saw fit.  His lack of self-awareness prevented him from taking accountability and eventually led to the termination of his employment.

Lack of self-awareness does not have to be career ending. Kindall Evolve coached another leader who also received tough and unflattering feedback. It shocked her and she felt blindsided. After taking a few days to gather herself, she became determined to step up her game and demonstrate that she was capable of leading authentically while meeting her revenue goals.  She rolled up her sleeves, took advantage of available resources, and committed to making positive changes.  She was successful in doing so and was pleased to see that her efforts positively impacted the culture and the bottom-line results of her business unit.

Many people are unaware of the impact they have on others. Research suggests that nearly 80% of society lacks self-awareness. The statistics are staggering. But if you think about the people you know, how many truly know themselves and how they impact others? How many of those are leaders?

In an interview conducted by Knowledge@Wharton, Dr. Eurich states, “My research has shown that 95% of people think they’re self-aware, but the real number is closer to 10% to 15%. I always joke that on a good day, 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves. It can be problematic. A lot of times, the people who have the most room to improve are the least likely to know.” We concur!

Because leaders have a special and significant impact, it is paramount that leaders become more self-aware. Thankfully your levels self-awareness aren’t permanent. All of us can work to improve these skills.

Activities for improving your self-awareness

At the end of each day reflect and write about the following in a journal:

o   What went well? How did you react?

o   What did not go as desired or anticipated? How did you react?

o   What was your role in the things that went well? What did you do or say? What should you continue to do?

o   What did you do or say in situations that did not go as planned?

o   What is your desired outcome?

o   How can you ensure that you get the results you want?

Review the journal at the end of the week and make note of any themes that emerge.

o   Are there patterns?

o   What have you learned about yourself?

o   What actions will you implement next week?

Reflection

o   Reflect on times in the past when you performed at your best. What strengths did you use? How can you continue to leverage those strengths?

o   Reflect on times when you wished your performance had been stronger. What contributed to the lackluster performance and what can you learn about yourself from the situation? 

Feedback

o   Ask 3 – 5 people who you trust to be honest with you. Make sure you ask people who care about you AND who will tell you the truth vs what they think you want to hear.

o   Prepare yourself for the feedback by planning to be open to what they share.

o   Ask for specific behavior-based examples (what did I do or say, etc.?).

o   Listen without being defensive and without responding except to say, “Thank You.”

Here are a few suggested questions:

1.     What do you believe I do exceptionally well?

2.     What would you like to see me do differently?

3.     How does my behavior impact you? 

The journaling and feedback alone will help you gain valuable insights about yourself you might not have been aware of. Once you gain this knowledge, it is up to you to take action. 

Set Goals – Be Purposeful

o   Start by setting 3 – 5 goals that will positively impact yourself and others.

o   Make a commitment to yourself and hold yourself accountable.

o   Practice new techniques and learn new skills.

o   Track your progress.

o   Find an accountability partner to support you.

If you have been struggling to successfully lead your team, you may want to start by assessing your levels of self-awareness and take action to improve. We’d love to hear from you- which of these tips did you find to be most helpful? Drop us a comment below!

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