Leaders exhibit many strengths to be successful in their role but I argue that self-awareness is the greatest strength a leader needs.
Self-awareness is understanding yourself and the impact you have on others.
Leaders need to adapt to different situations, often in a short space of time. Without self-awareness a leader could be causing more problems than helping them each time.
We’ll look at 3 main areas: using time wisely, effectiveness in different situations, and working with others, before looking at ways to improve self-awareness.
Using time wisely
Time is precious so wasted time could have long lasting effects. This is where self-awareness is key in knowing where time is best spent. Good leaders understand the levels of their own capabilities enabling them to be efficient with their time.
Leaders know where their strengths are so they can step back from getting too deep into the details if there are others that are better placed.
Strong leaders are not afraid to be open when they don’t know something and they don’t waste time doing so. They are quickly aware they need help and pull in the right people efficiently to help them learn or delegate to.
Effectiveness is different situations
Changing context effectively is essential for a leader. Self-awareness plays a big part in this so when assessing a situation you can help not hinder.
Leaders are able to:
- Know how they can help – leaders can quickly assess situations to understand where they can help. They know their gaps and want to add value to discussions without causing disruption.
- Admit mistakes – leaders are aware when they are in the wrong and the impact it has on others. Their openness with mistakes gains trust, reduces gossip, and minimises the confusion causes by mixed messages.
- Embracing discomfort – challenging situations need to be tackled. There could be conflicts in team or decisions that need to be made. A leader is aware of their ability when working through potentially volatile situations to find a way forward.
- Resisting personal interests – ‘once a coder, always a coder’, it’s common for leaders with an engineering background to still want to get involved hands because of their personal interest even if it’s slowing down the team because they have to help. Self-aware leaders understand this and don’t let personal interests affect others.
- Change styles – being aware of how to communicate effectively with different people is skill. Everyone has unique emotional needs and react differently in situations. A good leader is aware of this and adapts their style for others.
- Change positions – leaders are aware when they should get out of the way, and equally when to step in. It may be wearing different hats given the situation. Effective leaders do this seamlessly as they have awareness of their abilities and the needs of the situation.
Much damage can be caused by leaders thinking they know best when in reality they don’t. A strong self-awareness allows leaders to effectively read situations and know how they can help on reaching the best outcome.
Working with others
Self-awareness is key to working effectively with others. A large part of leadership is getting the best out of others, so being able to understand how one’s behaviour (or habits) affects others helps to identify and avoid negative impact.
A leader’s actions could be overbearing and restrictive to others. Instead of allowing others to shine they get overshadowed. The negative impact this has on other isn’t usually find out until it’s too late when they leave.
Self-awareness helps know when you’re taking someone else’s spotlight and should step back to allow them to lead. It allows the leader identify areas where other people will produce better outcomes than them and allows it to happen. Wanting the best for others even if that means less attention for you is a choice not every leader opts for, unfortunately.
Teams are only successful when trust exists. Having the ability to gauge how you’re getting on with the people around you is essential to building trust. Good leaders can ‘read the room’ and adapt their actions for the betterment of the team.
Improving your self-awareness
As self-awareness is key to success, finding ways to improve this skill should be a priority.
Here are a few ways:
- Reflect – think back on recent situations to see if they could have been handled better. What indicators can you look out for in the future?
- Get feedback – seek feedback from people around you. Be direct with your questions so any responses will help you improve or at least understand details/context/people better.
- Put into action – whether it’s from feedback or your own learnings, put it into practise. A cycle of reflection -> feedback -> action helps continuous improvement.
- Plan your work – be ready for meetings or discussions coming up. Write down a plan or some thoughts to help prepare for different possibilities.
- Learn from those around you – who is showing self-awareness around you? Observe their behaviours. Ask them questions to understand their thinking.
- Use a coach – they can help identify areas you may not be aware of.
Self-aware leaders will look to learn from every situation. They will work on how they can be more effective. They aim to gain an increased understanding in how to have a more positive impact on others.
They are also leaders that other people want to be around.