Happy New Year! I hope you all enjoyed some much deserved time off with family and friends, and are approaching this year feeling refreshed, energized and ready to take on new challenges.
I’m excited to share with you a new series focused on Authentic Leadership that I’ve designed to help you take concrete steps toward becoming a better culture-building leader. Each month, I’ll share one of six key principles that will help you bring out the best in yourself and others. This month’s principle focuses on the step that makes all the others possible: building self-awareness. Now is a great time to tackle this principle head-on, as many of us are naturally reflecting on the lessons of last year and planning for the year ahead.
Authentic Leadership Principle #1 Build self-awareness
Culture-building leaders get people fired up by sharing their vision and showing how their company contributes to the good of society. Building self-awareness is key to developing this kind of leadership! This may seem counterintuitive, or even self-centered, but leaders who build the most innovative and high-performing cultures have high self-awareness in 3 key areas:
1) They know their best skills
2) They know their innate talents
3) They have identified their most deeply held aspirations for making a difference in the world
If you would like to become the kind of leader who cultivates a great culture with high-performing and motivated people, the first step is to do some work to discover yourself in these areas.
The best and easiest way to improve your self-awareness is by taking assessments. Executive coaches typically offer assessments when first starting a coaching program. You can also find many assessment tools online, such as the bestselling tool Strength Finders. Other effective instruments include the Myers Briggs and DISC personality tests, and various Emotional Intelligence or EQ test. I suggest trying a few different assessments to gain the broadest possible understanding of yourself.
There are many benefits to building your self-awareness. The most important is the ability to best focus your time and energy on what you do well, and to stop doing what drains you. The most productive leaders hire people whose talents complement their own. Another benefit is the positive influence you will have on others. A self-aware leader is more confident, a better communicator, and more able to attune to others.
If you are working with a coach, you can also learn more about yourself from 360 surveys, an assessment tool that polls all the people impacted by a leader including his or her boss, direct reports, peers, selected customers, and others. This feedback contributes another layer of self-awareness and can help a leader focus in on key areas for growth.
For example, one of my clients found himself feeling discouraged and confused each year when his company performed an annual 360 survey for all its top leaders. The feedback he received varied widely. He received some very nice acknowledgements about how he encouraged people, praised them well, and supported their growth, but he also repeatedly heard comments like, “You have your favorites,” or “You don’t spend enough time helping me grow,” or “I never hear from you unless it’s a criticism.”
Though it can be confusing, this range of feedback is normal. You can’t please everyone, and different people will have a different experience of you. The important thing is not to worry too much about the highest praise and lowest criticisms, but to identify the themes that come up in the majority of responses.
Keeping this in mind, this leader went back to his direct reports, shared the feedback he’d received, and asked each one individually for more information. His direct reports gave him some honest verbal feedback that helped him narrow down key areas of focus for continued growth.
Likewise, once you take a few assessments, you will be in a better place to clarify your aspirations and growth potential. An inspired, focused leader has energy and enthusiasm that is contagious! Your people will follow your lead and bring their passion and talents to work!
What has been your favorite tool to build self-awareness? Let us know in the comments section!