A few posts back, we asked a question about why you became a manager. It stirred up some great comments through email and in person about the types of leaders people were and weren’t. One comment in particular has been swimming around in my mind. The commenter asked how important it was to be self-aware as a leader. In other words, does it really matter why you chose leadership, or even that you understand your leadership style if you want to be effective.
The Self Aware Leader
My answer was a definitive YES. In order to be the most effective manager you can be, self-awareness is required. After all, if you don’t have a good grasp on what you are bringing to the table for your team, how can you ever expect them to follow along with your ideas and directives? Once I made that statement, I knew I wanted to take a look at how that played out in real life, so I thought back to the leaders and managers I’ve had who I considered to be self-aware and took a look at what they had in common. There were three things that rose to the surface pretty quickly:
- Purpose. Each of the leaders shared the trait of having a strong sense of purpose coupled with a set of values and beliefs that drove how they behaved as leaders. As Peter Marshall said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”. Leaders who know who they are tend to be much more authentic when interacting with their team. The leaders who tend to follow the flavor of the month or the latest management fad or book to gain their leadership philosophy have a much more difficult time trying to gain buy-in from the team.
- Seek feedback. Former New York City mayor, Ed Koch, became famous during his time in office for riding the city subway system or standing on the street corner and asking New Yorkers he met, “How’m I doin?” This feedback from his “people” helped shape his policies. Feedback comes in different forms. We work with leaders to provide formal feedback through 360s and coaching, and that is a valuable way to gather data and commentary about what’s working and what’s not. It’s just as important though, for managers to get the real-time feedback provided by just walking around and talking to people.
- Reflect and evaluate. In addition to the feedback that comes from other people, great leaders take the time to stop and reflect on what’s going on with the team and the business. If an initiative fails (or if it’s wildly successful), it’s really important to look at why things worked or didn’t work. Much of this information comes from the leader’s experience in similar situations or just a gut reaction to what they feel went well or didn’t go well. The then take that to the next level by validating that reflection with other people.
While it may not be easy to recognize the leaders who are high in the self-awareness category, it’s relatively easy to spot the ones who are low in the same skill set. Self-awareness has to be an intentional part of any manager’s long-term development plan, but the benefits can be easily seen in the teams the manage.