Whenever I talk to leaders and managers about self-awareness, someone usually says, “I don’t need any of that. I’m already self-aware.” Usually, they’re not. Not even close.

Leaders lacking in self-awareness typically display one or more of the following tell-tale signs:

  • They don’t realize how the message coming out of their mouth is being perceived by the outside world.
  • They think about their intention and not their actions.
  • Their reality is the only reality.
  • Their measurables are not the best measurables of the people on their team.
    (Maybe a certain unit of measurement is important to you, but why is it not important to others? If they don’t appreciate it, perhaps there’s a reason. Have you talked about it?)
  • If something isn’t working, they blame others, even if it was their idea.
  • They try the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result, because they’re convinced that their way is the only
  • They never ask others, “What do you think?” and never ask themselves, “What could I be doing differently?”
  • They don’t like delegating and think, “No one does it better than me.”

Sound familiar? Be honest. It’s OK if so, as long as you realize that if you don’t address these issues, you could be the biggest obstruction to implementing your agenda.

How Can You Reverse-course and Be More Self-aware?

1. Start With a 360-degree Assessment

If you don’t want to know what others think of you, you can’t claim to be self-aware. A 360-degree assessment asks your colleagues to be honest about areas for improvement and what they value most about you. If you approach it with an open mind, it can only be a positive experience.

I’ve witnessed instances where people around a leader view them much differently  than they view themselves, but they don’t want to take a 360 assessment. These leaders say things like, “Nobody has ever said that about me.”

Are you sure? How do you know? Have you ever asked anybody?

2. Live in the Present Rather Than the Past

Non-self-aware leaders rely too much on their past history and always refer back to their press clippings. If you rely too much on what you did in the past, you’re lacking a story in the present that’s relevant and compelling. Perhaps you’ve worked in a lot of different places, but you’re in a new environment with new people and new challenges. You have to have the awareness to approach leadership from a new, fresh perspective.

3. Embrace the Journey of Change — Including Your Own

Self-aware leaders recognize the journey and what lies ahead. They have a sense of where their team has to go, where their culture has to go and where their company has to go, and they understand that it doesn’t happen overnight.

Non-self aware leaders say “We have to do this. I don’t care what it takes, but we have to do it by this date” — even when that date is unrealistic in the eyes of their team and in terms of available resources. They’re providing a lot of bluster and sputtering out directives that are separated from reality.

Can Non-self-aware Leaders Succeed?

They’re on borrowed time at best. Show me a non-self-aware leader who is also successful, and I’ll show you someone who’s very lucky or who has an exceptional support team. The team’s success happens in spite of mismanagement, not because the leader is outstanding.

If you accomplished success in a state of non-awareness, how much more could you accomplish if you actually knew the impact you had on other people?

Being able to point to good metrics is not that great if you aren’t aware of the people who work alongside you every day and don’t think that you understand their needs.

The TV show “Undercover Boss” is self-awareness in action. After they go “undercover” as an employee of their company, the leaders are often in tears, because they realize that they’re removed from the employee experience. They are the same people who, when approached with the idea of an employee engagement or client loyalty survey, might say, “No.” They don’t think they have an employee turnover problem or customer service problem. They’re in denial or don’t care. They only want data that supports their opinions.

If you want to know what employees really need, you have to listen and observe. Enjoy this conversation on a monthly or quarterly basis, and don’t be afraid of it. Then, show them why they shouldn’t be afraid of it, too.

Good News (or Bad News): You’re Never Completely Self-aware

As soon as you achieve self-awareness, something changes, and you need to refresh your perspective. But that’s a good thing. You never want to be complacent, and once you are, self-awareness begins to melt away.

Don’t let it reach that point. Cherish the opportunity to keep your relationships and understanding fresh. See why change, although uncomfortable, is necessary to your continued growth, no matter which stage of your career you’re in. Most importantly, remember what it’s like to have a profound level of self-awareness about your strengths, weaknesses, current challenges and available resources.

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