In observing really good leaders, one of the traits that is almost always present is great self-awareness. Here’s why self-awareness is important in leadership: We need to continually become aware of ourselves so that what we don’t know doesn’t hurt others and damage our ability to lead well. The fact is we all have blind spots and a blind spot can damage our influence and hurt those we are trying to lead.
Years ago my mentor told me he was going to go to counseling. I asked him what problem or challenge he was facing. He said he didn’t know. I was confused and kept pressing him what the “issue” was. He said he didn’t know of anything that was wrong. But it was what he didn’t know that he was concerned about. He went to counseling to discover his blind spots.
Good self-awareness allows us to have an accurate view of ourselves. Why is this important and valuable in leadership? As leaders we have influence in the lives of people – that’s what leadership is. Who we are affects how we lead. And all leaders are sinners. All leaders are flawed. All leaders are broken in some way. All leaders have strengths which should be maximized and weaknesses, that if unchecked, can trip them up and hurt those he or she is leading. Self-awareness is essential if we are going to be able to understand ourselves, which affects how well we interact and serve those we are leading. Leaders who are poor at self-awareness hurt people and don’t even know it. Without good self-awareness, we won’t be able to grow and lead better.
Here’s where we start: You have to want to be more self-aware. It doesn’t just happen. I want to be the best leader I can. I don’t want to hurt the people I lead. We have to really look for clues from others that might be telling us there is something not quite right. You have to choose to develop a self-awareness antenna. Frankly, few leaders get past this point. They don’t want to know their flaws, weaknesses, blind spots or the things hiding in the shadows.
We almost never become more aware on our own. We need others to give us feedback. But it isn’t enough to ask for feedback. We actually have to create a culture or an environment where others know we welcome feedback. Folks need to know we really do want to know ourselves better and that we will act on the feedback given to us. So when we ask for feedback, we can’t become defensive or in any way punish the person giving us feedback. Want to become aware of your blind spots or weaknesses? Ask! Others will see things long before you will. Over the years I’ve learned that I can even learn things in poorly delivered feedback. Even “bad” feedback likely has a kernel of truth in it.
Most of our blind spots are connected to our past. We bury stuff. We cover over the pain. We are good at the denial project. There is stuff that lurks in the shadow that we are not fully aware of. The “shadow” is most dangerous to our personhood and leadership. The past and things that are in the shadow has a way of living in the present, especially without good self-awareness. Past events and our conclusions about those past events become triggers in our present and we as well as those we lead are surprised by what shows up or erupts. We almost always need help, often professional help, to discover and unpack the stuff in the shadows.
There’s a another aspect to self-awareness. We all sin and there are things we are more likely to be tempted by. No one is exempt from powerful temptations. Good self-awareness notices when the conditions in or around us are forming where we might be more vulnerable to temptation. Things like tiredness, certain toxic personalities, or various kinds of stressors might make us more likely to give into temptation and sin. Self-awareness learns to recognize the danger zones so we can make more positive choices.
How do you start? Spend some honest time with God asking him to prepare your heart to be open to feedback. Then ask some trusted friends, other than your spouse, to give you feedback. Pick a specific area or let it be general. Start on surface level or go deeper. This is invaluable to living well and leading well. The more self-aware we become, the more God can shape and mold us to be more like Jesus and lead like Jesus.