Self-Awareness – A Foundation Skill for Exceptional Leadership

Gary was a very competent and confident CEO.

His people knew he was an expert and would mostly lead them down the right path.

That however, didn’t stop them not trusting him.  It didn’t stop good talent from leaving.

The reason they didn’t trust Gary was that they felt Gary did not care for them. They felt that he was only interested in what they could do for the company.

When, as Gary’s executive coach, I gave him that feedback, he was shocked.  No, he was hurt.

He said “I do care for them. I’d rather pay them than myself, if it came to that.  They are the reason we are successful, not what we make or sell.  How could they think that of me?”

Gary had no idea how others perceived him.

As someone who could be both extrovert and introvert, Gary could waiver between emotive and detached.

When he was emotive it was because he was being passionate.  Others perceived him as being angry in those moments.

When he was detached it was because he was thinking, trying to solve something, trying to figure out how best to help.   In those moments, others perceived him as not being interested, not caring.

After I had Gary complete an Emotional Intelligence assessment, I wasn’t surprised to see that whilst he had high empathy for others, he had lower than average self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the most enabling of learnable qualities a leader can gain to become exceptional.

Self-awareness enables you to monitor yourself in any situation.

If you are self-aware, you have increased ability to acquire other skills of emotion, thinking and behaviour that empower you to become an exceptional leader.

In Gary’s case, we worked on some core practices to improve his self-awareness.

The simplest of these was for him to pay attention to his breathing whilst he was interacting with other people.

That attention to his breathing enabled him to monitor how he might be appearing to others. He learned to associate monitoring his breathing with also paying attention to his tone and level of engagement.

After a period of three months, staff noticed that Gary had changed and become, in their eyes, more approachable, more understanding and a better leader.  Staff retention and productivity improved.

After six months Gary redid the assessment and his self-awareness had gone from below average to above average.  Other measures also improved, particularly self-regulation.

Leadership is a life-long learning loop.

Any leader who wants to become exceptional can do so.

Improving self-awareness is a crucial step in that direction.

What do you think?

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