Do You Know You?

“Too many leaders think they are adept at everything. Self-aware leaders know that they can’t possibly have the skills and knowledge to do it all. Instead, they are dynamic, adaptable, and emotionally intelligent.”

 – Excerpted from HBR Management Tip “Be a Better Leader by Building Your Self-Awareness”, April 22, 2010

Have you ever given yourself the gift of self-reflection?  Have you ever asked others to grant you the gift of feedback (both positive and negative, mind you)?  And for those of you on the “feedback giving” end, have you ever realized that you are giving a gift … and as such, this gift should be as thoughtful and individual as an item you would purchase in a store?

Merriam-Webster defines self awareness as an awareness of one’s own personality or individuality.  This awareness includes one’s traits, feelings, and behaviors.  But I would add one more piece to this definition … and that is the awareness of the impact of one’s behaviors on others.  Our singular internal view is only one piece of the puzzle.

Knowing yourself is the first step to emotional intelligence.

 A firm sense of self allows you to course-correct when needed.  A firm sense of self allows you to prepare for and manage your responses.  With self awareness comes the responsibility to actively manage oneself.  (And then, as Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence theory would tell us, become socially aware and manage external relationships.)  So being self aware is not enough.  Once you know, it is your responsibility to do something about it.  Self awareness is a critical piece of leadership and of followership.

When I think of self awareness and our potential difficulty to acknowledge or accept who/what we are, I think of the “aha” moments that come from discussing two habits in the FranklinCovey 7 Habits of Highly Effective People workshops that I facilitate.

  • First is Habit 1 – Be Proactive.  The basic premise of this habit is that we all have a choice … at each and every moment … of how we will respond to any given situation.  We are not a victim of our circumstances … we are a product of our choices.  So one piece of self reflection is looking at those choices … and learning from them (as opposed to obsessing over the wisdom or lack thereof with regard to each choice) … and then orchestrating the repeat of the positive choices and the elimination of the negative, relationship-destroying choices.
  • Then moving on to Covey’s Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind.  This habit focuses on purpose and mission.  The activity to uncover one’s true purpose is quite eye opening with regard to self awareness.  The individual who chooses to truly reflect and not believe his/her (or others) own hype will produce a pathway formulated from true strengths and passions.

I often use the Simmons Management Systems’ Simmons Personal Survey to help individuals become self aware.  As a tool to measure Emotional Intelligence, the survey report identifies one’s placement on 13 different scales.  In addition, the survey compares the respondent’s view of self with the self-perception of how others view him/her.  The importance of the survey results is found not in identifying the perfect level of emotional intelligence … but rather in peeling away all of our “excuses”, showing ourselves our behavioral tendencies, and then allowing us to come to terms with how we will manage these tendencies in the future.  Self-management: THAT is the starting point of emotional intelligence.

Your reputation replaces your business card.

Does knowing yourself today foretell your future?  When was the last time you asked about your reputation?

Robert Hogan, President of Hogan Assessment Systems, states that your present and past behavior is replicated in the future.  So, the behaviors and actions one sees today serve as witness to the behaviors and actions of tomorrow.  He talks about identity versus reputation:  identity related to who you believe you are – and reputation related to who others say you are.

Hogan really has it right when he talks of identity and reputation.  One without the other gives us an unbalanced view of ourselves.  Who you are – and who others think you are – are both equal partners in establishing our sense of self.  (Please note – I did not say sense of worth.  Don’t let one half overtake the other … for that will bring about a warped sense of self.)

Daniel Gallagher and Joseph Costal just published a book titled The Self-Aware Leader:  A Proven Model for Reinventing Yourself.  In the book, the authors propose the concept of Profitable Imagination as the process of thinking differently – pushing from ordinary to extraordinary.  One way to increase your profitable imagination is to be clear on your current value (as exemplified by the role you play on any certain project – leader, manager, facilitator, or producer) and then determine if this is the role that you want to play.  Gallagher and Costal suggest that this awareness of role opens the door to self-reflection of one’s internal comfort scale.  Is this what you want your value to be?  If not, it is up to you to change it.

Ask, listen, reflect, and morph.

Warren Bennis, in his On Becoming a Leader chapter titled “Knowing Yourself”, frames self awareness by stating, “People begin to become leaders at that moment when they decide for themselves how to be.”

And how do you get to that point? Bennis summarizes the process with four lessons.

  1. You are your own best teacher.
  2. Accept responsibility.  Blame no one.
  3. You can learn anything you want to learn.
  4. True understanding comes from reflecting on your experience.

So – do you practice these lessons?  Do you have a clear picture of you – as a person?  Do you know your strengths?  Areas for improvement?  Triggers?

To all leaders – your charge:  ask, listen, reflect, and morph.  This is the process of self awareness and reinvention.  Go ahead – practice today!

“Knowledge of the self is the mother of all knowledge. So it is incumbent on me to know my self, to know it completely, to know its minutiae, its characteristics, its subtleties, and its very atoms.”

-Kahlil Gibran

Read More About It:

  • Bennis, Warren.  On Becoming a Leader:  The Leadership Classic. Philadelphia, PA:  Basic Books. 2009.
  • Covey, Stephen R.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:  Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.  New, York, NY:  Fireside.  1989.
  • Gallagher, Daniel P. and Joseph Costal.  The Self-Aware Leader:  A Proven Model for Reinventing Yourself.  Alexandria, VA:  ASTD Press.  2012.
  • Goleman, Daniel, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee.  Primal Leadership:  Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence.  Boston, MA:  Harvard Business School Publishing.  2002.
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