Over the last 35 years, I’ve had an interest in understanding why some people rise to the top in an organization and why others struggle to get selected to move ahead.  At times, I thought it was mostly based on skills, competence, charisma, or chemistry.  At other times, I would have contended it was about one or more of the following: determination, initiative, self-confidence, decision-making skills, self-management, strategic thinking, definitive goals, clear vision, team building, innovation and relationship building.  But in the last year or two, I’m more and more convinced of another key essential for success in pretty much every vocation.  It isn’t often talked about or written about.

However, I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that reveals research indicating an essential for success is self-awareness.  In fact, this HBR article, written by Organizational Psychologist, Tasha Eurich writes, “when we see ourselves clearly, we are more confident and more creative.   We make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively. We’re less likely to lie, cheat, and steal. We are better workers who get more promotions. And we’re more-effective leaders with more-satisfied employees and more-profitable companies.”  In fact, Eurich footnoted nearly a dozen research studies that confirmed her statements.  I find this research fascinating.

In my life experience as a pastor, chaplain, boss, supervisor, entrepreneur and coach, I’ve noticed that those who excel in leadership roles, are more self-aware than those who don’t rise to the top.  Unfortunately, many of us think we are more self-aware than we are. And to be clear, there are two types of self-awareness. There is internal self-awareness, where we have the ability to accurately monitor our inner world of emotions, motives, passions, stresses, strengths, weaknesses, behaviors and mental well-being.  Those who have this inner self-awareness, are happier, less stressed and more fulfilled than those who lack it.  And then there is external self-awareness, where we understand how others view us.  Research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy, and better at relating to those around them.

My whole point is this.  Our likelihood of being our best self with whatever gift-set God has given us and functioning to our highest capacity in the environment we work in, serve in and live in, will improve as we become more self-aware.  So, I’ve been intent on developing more self-awareness in my life.  You can to.  Here are some things that have helped me.

  • Be intentional.  We will never grow in any area of life without intentionality.  Learn to gut-check yourself when you are in difficult situations.  Slow down, reflect, and evaluate what is happening inside of you.  Fast-paced busyness works against becoming self-aware.  Our ability to grow in self-awareness is in direct proportion to our willingness to slow the pace of our lives to include self-introspection, tuning in to what God wants to say to us and becoming curious about what others would like to be able to say to us.
  • Invite Fearless Feedback.  Ask people close to you to help you become more self-aware.  The higher you are in power and influence in an organization, the less feedback you will naturally receive.  When you invite loving critique, and you don’t overreact or get defensive when it is given, you will create an environment for even more feedback in the future.  For example, I know that I can tell too many details in a story and overload people with things they aren’t interested in or don’t need to know.  So, I’ve invited my spouse to give me subtle clues that only she and I recognize if she senses that is happening.  That practice has also helped me become more self-aware when she isn’t present to give that feedback.
  • Keep on Learning.  No matter how much progress we make in self-awareness, there is always more to learn.  It’s a life-long adventure of discovery. 

All of this brings me to conclude: Leaders and anyone who will focus on building both internal and external self-awareness, who invite fearless feedback from loving critics, take time to reflect and be introspective — will reap the many rewards that increased self-knowledge delivers.  It is the key to success at work and at home.  Blessings on the journey!

QUESTION: What have you found to be most helpful for you in your growth toward self-awareness? Share in the comments below.

5 responses to An Unusual Essential for Success

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