Become a Self-Aware Leader
“I’m good” or “I’m all set”. These are some comments you’ll hear from leaders when asked what they’re doing to improve their leadership abilities. These static answers suggest a leader that is not truly self-aware or perhaps one with a healthy ego. The reality is that to be a great leader, you must periodically evaluate yourself and your leadership abilities as a principle of continuous improvement. The key to great leadership and garnering the trust and commitment of your team is to become a self-aware leader.
During a particular slump in my career, a mentor I respect asked me when the last time I invested in my personal development. I realized that although I had taken many company-offered courses to develop my industry acumen or specific job skills (e.g. sales, negotiations), I had mostly relied on on-the-job training for my leadership capabilities. I even still used an old Myers-Briggs assessment I took in the 90’s as my baseline. I realized I was not doing myself, my team or my organization any favors. So I decided to re-assess my leadership capabilities and create a plan for improvement.
Periodic self-assessments measure a leader’s development over time, but also provide a baseline for future improvement strategies. Without knowing where you stand, how can you improve? By performing a self-assessment, you create greater self-awareness as a result. You gain an acute understanding of your leadership style, strengths, and also potential gaps or weaknesses that could lead to behaviors that inhibit your effectiveness as a leader. Some assessments, like the Mattone Leadership Enneagram Inventory (MLEI), provide insights to a leader’s go-to style, and their values, believes and mindsets that lead to particular, observable behaviors.
Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ) is a characteristic of self-aware leaders. These leaders know how they come across from the perspective of their reports and coworkers, and they know their weaknesses and strengths. Self-awareness is essential to understanding the importance of continuous improvement. You develop your self-awareness when you assess your leadership effectiveness regularly. There is a direct correlation between the two.
There are numerous benefits to gaining greater self-awareness of your leadership style and skills. Combined with the creation and execution of an individual development plan, these benefits include:
- Improved effectiveness and impact as a leader
- Better communication, building stronger relationships
- Enhanced Emotional Intelligence, understanding how you’re perceived by others
- More effective listening and empathy
It is important to be honest when assessing yourself. Don’t allow it to be distorted by your ego. To be effective, you should not try and “game” the assessment by providing “desirable” answers, but be straight-forward and truthful.
Tools for Your Self-Assessment
“If you can not measure it, you can not improve it” ~ Lord Kelvin
There is a multitude of very good assessment tools on the market, but the one I prefer is the MLEI. Regardless of the tool you chose, you want one that will provide you with your primary leadership style, your strengths and weaknesses, and will help you find under-utilized skills that can unlock massive potential. You also want to understand if the assessment is intended for the general population or if it was primarily designed and populated with leaders in mind. Finally, you need suggestions on specific strategies to help you improve your skills.
Another assessment which is often used to create greater self-awareness is the 360° assessment. This is not the same as a “performance assessment”. This assessment is one that your key stakeholders – your peers, employees, up-line leaders – provide their input on your leadership behaviors and how you show up for them as a leader in the workplace. While this type assessment takes more time and is somewhat challenging to administer, it provides remarkable insights that surprises many leaders. Many leaders find the prospect of having 360° feedback to be somewhat scary, but it can be the cornerstone for massive growth. I use an assessment tool called the Strategic-Tactical Leadership Index (STLI-360) which allows for both quantitative and qualitative assessment.
Observation is Critical
The 360° assessment has the added benefit of external observation from the perspective of those with whom you work, and you can gain insights into how you carry yourself as a leader. There are other modalities that offer similar benefits. Using video recordings of yourself in a role-play or in your live environment to evaluate your abilities is like watching videos of your opponents prior to a game or match to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Often times, leaders will choose a leadership coach who can also provide the independent and objective observation of a leader’s daily interactions to assess their skills and abilities. In all these cases, placing yourself at the center of attention can help you overcome your fears and vulnerabilities and develop a greater self-awareness.
As a leader, you should always ask coworkers and your reports to rate your leadership abilities. By doing so, you will be able to secure their direct feedback. If you ask them how they see you as a leader, consistently, every day, you can obtain honest and useful feedback.
Asking for feedback is, unfortunately, one of the most challenging things leaders do. The difficulty comes from two main sources, first it requires a leader to be vulnerable and humble, to admit they want and need feedback to grow as a leader. Second, it is difficult for leaders to create an environment where the peer or report will feel “safe” to provide honest feedback without fear of reprisal. Leaders must resist the powerful urge to interrupt and justify behaviors. Just listen and thank the person for the courage and honestly in providing the feedback.
In addition to greater self-awareness for the leaders, another benefit is increased communication and trust between the leader and your team. A true win-win!
Listening to your team is one way to get quality feedback. When you listen effectively, you let the reports steer the conversation. The key is to empower your team so that they feel they can make a meaningful contribution. The ability to listen well fosters an environment in which everyone feels safe to speak honestly and candidly.
Acknowledge Your Mistakes
As a leader, acknowledging your mistakes demonstrates humility and vulnerability. It also demonstrates your sincere desire to grow as a leader. Immature leaders have trouble adopting this behavior because they fear looking weak or losing control. If you need to apologize, do not be afraid to do so. Articulate your plan for making up for your mistakes and be clear how you’ll change. Being responsible for your actions is not just a sign of maturity, it is an excellent tool for self-assessment and introspection.
Take the time to assess yourself and your leadership abilities on a regular basis. Be aware of how you show-up as a leader at all times. You can unleash your true leadership potential by building up a network of coaching and support.
As an executive coach at Intelligent Leadership Executive Coaching (ILEC), I can help you learn how to build self-awareness to improve your skills as a leader in the workplace.