Self-awareness is often described as the single most important quality for effective leadership. Daniel Goleman, who popularised the concept of emotional intelligence in the 1990s described it as an absolute necessity of leadership.
“Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but they still won’t make a great leader.”
Self-aware leaders have the ability to understand, use and manage their own emotions, and those of the people around them, and to use that information to guide their thinking and behaviour.
"When we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative. We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively... and we’re more effective leaders with more satisfied employees and more profitable companies." Tasha Eurich
However, improving our own self-awareness is not always easy. A study in 2018 found that even though most people (95%) believe that they are self-aware, true self-awareness is a rare quality. They estimated that only 10-15% of the people in the study actually fit the criteria.
Those who are looking to develop their self-awareness should be aware of potential challenges:
1. Imposter syndrome
More than a third (36%) of leaders experience frequent or high levels of 'impostor syndrome', according to Heriot-Watt University and the School for CEOs research. The term ‘imposter syndrome’, first coined in the 1970s refers to an individual doubting their skills, talents, or accomplishments and incorrectly attributing their success to luck or interpreting it as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.
Acknowledging such thoughts is the first step to addressing them. By being open and honest, admitting that they don’t have all the answers and then embracing opportunities for continual learning and development, leaders can positively address any negative feelings.
Low self-belief can be a symptom of the so-called ‘Imposter syndrome’ and our own research amongst many of the leaders we have worked with on our LEAD™ program found that over 90% of them had lacked self-belief before starting the program. However, by bringing together peers from other companies to learn, share, reflect and support one another as they work on real life business issues, they feel better equipped, and more confident, to deal with whatever is thrown at them. They #InspireBelief in one another.
Nicola Bird, Founder and Managing Director of AccXel and Safety and Business Development Director at KW Bell Group describes
“Since graduating from LEAD™ I am more focused, determined and confident than ever before and this is solely down to the excellent coaching, the sincere peer support and the practical tools delivered by every expert I met on the way.”
Similarly, Cordell Ray MBE, CEO at Gloucestershire based charity, Caring for Communities and People (CCP) found that
“LEAD™ has elevated me to a greater level of leadership confidence than I could have imagined. Being a more confident leader is better for me and better for the company as a whole.”
2. Blind Spots
According to Robert Bruce Shaw, author of ‘Leadership Blindspots’ a blind spot is an “unrecognised weakness or threat that has the potential to undermine a leader’s success.” We all suffer from blind spots and one of the most well-known examples is that of Steve Jobs who had co-founded Apple and built it into a billion-dollar empire and yet aged 30yrs was unceremoniously sacked from his own company. The reason for his demise was his lack of empathy and his inability to see the impact that his behaviour was having on people.
The Johari Window model is a useful framework through which leaders can look at how they interact with others and consider their own perception versus the perception of others.
The top left pane represents what you know about yourself and also share with others. The bottom left pane represents that which we know about ourselves but don’t share with others. By being more open and honest with people, leaders can reduce their ‘Hidden area’ and expand their ‘Open’ area. The top right pane represents information which others know but that we are unaware of – i.e., our blind spots. By seeking feedback from others, we can seek to reduce our ‘Blind’ area and increase our ‘Open’ area. The larger that our open area is, the more self-aware we are about our strengths, weaknesses etc. The bottom right pane represents untapped potential – that which is not know either to us or others.
Whilst we can develop an improved understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses through self-reflection or self-assessment, it is impossible for us to be fully self-aware without seeking others’ perspectives. By getting honest feedback from others, we can build our self-belief by gaining a clearer idea of what we are doing well as well as identifying opportunities for learning and improvement.
We encourage the leaders and managers on all our programs to seek feedback from others in order to gain a clear and accurate picture of their leadership impact and increase their self-awareness and in turn, their ‘Open’ area. Delegates on our leadership and business development program, LEAD™, carry out a shadowing project where they work with trusted peers to evaluate and learn from each other’s leadership performance, whilst delegates on our LEADlight program for ‘middle leaders’, are tasked with asking for feedback from their managers, peers and direct reports to enable them to create an action plan to build on what they are doing well as well as focusing on areas where performance needs to be improved.
If you would like to learn more about our program for senior leaders (LEAD™) or current or aspiring managers (LEADlight), please click on their links. You can also get in touch with one of the QuoLux™ team here to book a meeting and talk through how we may be able to help you.
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