What surpasses education, skills, charisma, and even talent? The surprising answer is self-awareness. One Cornell University study found it was the “strongest predictor of overall success” among top leaders. I first heard this on a podcast by Michael Hyatt about three years ago. And the more I’ve paid attention, it’s not just for leaders of organizations. I’ve watched it in relationships, marriage, parenting, the every-day work world and more. Self-awareness builds success.
We all know what self-unawareness looks like. We’ve watched people who are clueless about their own demeanor, their behaviors, their quirks, their management style. Maybe it’s that they always have to have the last word, no matter what or where—at work, at home, in every conversation. Always correcting, always a story to top someone else’s story. We see it in others and we are irritated by it. But what if we are missing important clues in our own lives that are obvious to most everyone around us?
Self-assurance that shows up as confidence can be a really great thing in life. Especially in a leadership role. But if you dial it up a couple notches and it becomes sort of that invincible sense; “I’m always right,” “I’m never wrong,” “I have amazing insight,” then it becomes arrogance. Arrogance can lead to over-confidence. Over-confidence can lead to an inflated view of our abilities. Power-tripping, diminishing the input of our peers, inerrant, immutable become the norm. I am so self-assured that I become arrogant and I close down the perspectives of everyone around me at home, at work or wherever. And I’m often oblivious as to how I come across to others.
Let me suggest four things that can help us move toward stronger self-awareness:
Know the Symptoms – Being aware of the symptoms is key to diagnosing and treating an illness. Likewise, paying attention to what’s going on around you is critical to your growth in self-awareness. If your teammates or family frequently seem irritated with you, or your peers start working around you and leave you out of the conversation, pay close attention. If you find you have troubled relationships with the people that are the well-liked and the easiest to get along with, maybe you have a problem. If your peers or teammates never seem excited or enthusiastic when you suggest something, maybe you are unaware of how you are coming across.
Do Self-Inventory – There are many great tools to help us take an inward look. Some of my favorites that have helped me get a better look at myself are: StrengthsFinder 2.0, Myers-Briggs, DISC Profile, and Enneagram. When you see your strengths, tendencies, personality type and gifting, you will be encouraged and these tools are also designed to make you more aware of the downside potentials of your unique wiring.
Reflect Regularly – Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Routinely slowing down the pace, pushing pause and intentionally reflecting on your life, activities, attitudes and actions pays huge dividends. Start the day by looking at your schedule and choosing to be intentional about adding value to the lives of the people closest to you as well as strangers. At the end of the day ask yourself, “Did I make more deposits into other people’s lives than I did withdrawals?” Mindfulness, meditation, prayer and journaling are all excellent practices. I use the Scriptures as a mirror for my life to see how I’m doing with practicing the attitudes and actions Jesus regularly modeled in his relationships and leadership. Regular reflection enables more awareness of where I need to adjust and change.
Invite Fearless Feedback – Most of us thrive on affirmation and praise. We generally avoid criticism. Why would I want to invite someone to point out my flaws and weaknesses? Only if I want to improve and become a better person, a better teammate, a better spouse, a better parent, or a better leader. There is no comfort in growth and no growth without change. And change is always uncomfortable. I have a personal “board of directors” who have my permission to give me fearless feedback. And I try to be intentional to invite my wife to give me feedback. And sometimes, she gives it when I don’t ask for it. Questions to my peers or my teammates could include: “What can I do to be a better leader?” “What am I missing?” is always better than “What am I doing wrong?” Asking the right questions in the right way will help the fearless feedback to be constructive and not destructive. In most settings, other than with those closest to you, (who will tell you what they think even if you don’t want to know), you will have to invite it to receive it. Fearless feedback will increase your self-awareness and can be a powerful tool for growth and improvement.
All four of the above practices take one not-so-common attitude: humility. Self-awareness requires humility. The willingness to learn, to grow, to acknowledge mistakes and failures is the fruit of humility. Since humiliation is just involuntary humility, I plan to always choose humility. Humility is inspiring. If someone is aloof, I don’t feel like I can really follow in their footsteps, as they’re too different. I just admire them. But if someone is humble and open, I feel I can be like them. They are human enough. Some of the most inspiring leaders in history had no organizational authority. Jesus comes to mind.
The pursuit of self-awareness will lead to the best for yourself and for those you live with, work with and serve. Self-awareness is not reached with a sprint, but a marathon. It’s a life-long journey of choosing humility over arrogance and servanthood over being served. I pray you’ll experience the joy of the journey.
QUESTION: What would you add for additional ways to become more self-aware? I’d love to hear it in the comment section.