Not once I hear from young leaders: “Erika, how do I let others know, that they should develop their self-awareness?”. Well? Good question… I usually tell them, that the lack of self-awareness is like a dirty sock. The one who wears it, is the least likely to care. His entourage, on the other hand, suffers in silence…
One of the most important tasks in a leadership position, is giving feedback. Being a reflective mirror, in which the other person can see himself as he is. This is not a rewarding task. Because usually, if the mirror doesn’t show what the other person wants to see, there’s little chance of maintaining the role of a “cool boss”. But more on that another time! Back to self-awareness. 🙂
I remember one of my own such blind-spot curettages, that did hurt quite a lot. Being a leader, I always found self-awareness to be quite important. And, as all good leaders (gee!), I started with myself. I joined a coaching school, because back then I still believed coaching has anything to do with leadership, and I found myself in the middle of it.
During a PCM® test, at the end of a seemingly endless series of questions, the diagnosis was made: “persister phase”. Reading the analysis, it made such statements of me: “You are dedicated, an excellent observer and conscientious. Can anyone ask for more from a colleague? You are able to express your opinions, usually very strongly, and your strong convictions stand up to the toughest criticism. You share your opinions without hesitation and your arguments convince others. When you commit yourself to something, you stick to it and your sincere enthusiasm will convince everyone.” Oh yeah! That’s so me! And then, unfortunately, I kept reading…
In the less heart-warming parts, because that’s also part of the personality test, it said: “you probably have a sense of superiority or you feel you have triumphed over the situation and over others. You become increasingly critical of those around you, lacking their commitment, loyalty, trustworthiness or faith in you and the company. You may try to impose your beliefs on them, fighting to the end for what you believe is right, fair or just. It is possible that you start preaching to the choir…”. No way man!
As in school when you get a bad grade on a test, I took my paper and started complaining to the trainer. There must be some hiccup in the system, as this is so not me! The trainer just looked at me, smiled and said: “you’ll understand eventually…”.
Next morning me and my boss drove off on a business trip. Still unable to get over what I had read, I continued to untangle the knots. Of course, not because I wanted to impose my own beliefs on anyone… I took out the analysis, read it to my boss and added my opinion: “that’s not me! I respect everyone’s opinion and I strive for inclusive, democratic decisions!” My boss took his eyes off the road, and took a long hard look at me.
When he must have realised, that there was no self-irony or sarcasm in my statement, he started howling with laughter. To clear my puzzlement (which I assume was heavily carved on my face), he added: “Erika, there is no other person on the planet, who is more black or white then you. Either things are as you say, or they don’t exist!”. F*ck! Now that’s a good mirror…
Now, what do I do with such a feedback? I either believe it, or I don’t. After spending the next few days (weeks, months) in denial, I had to accept, that I just had to deal with it. I started asking for more feedback, but more so, I started observing myself. As it turned out, there were people in my life, who did not see such behaviours in me. Yes, probably, because these were all “leisure” relationships. Where we met, talked, had fun, then went home. We did not share any big problems.
Because when do these negative behavioural patterns appear? When we are not in our element, when something’s at stake, or when we have a seemingly hopeless problem to solve. In short: when stressed, we are all idiots. It is times like these, that it becomes important that we start observing ourselves. And above all, not try to convince others, that we are right and they are wrong. When thoughts like “I don’t believe, that…” or “it can’t be true, that…” appeared, I caught myself in the act. From this point onward, it became my responsibility, that I am consciously aware, of what actually does leave my mouth.
When repeatedly faced with feedback that blows your fuse, it’s worth considering whether there might be some truth to it. As in the situation above, try to catch yourself in the act. And if you are on the other side, try to keep a just and straight mirror. The quality of your relationships is your own responsibility, whichever side you might be on.
If you want to improve your self-awareness, feel free to contact me!
I designed my EXPERTizeYourself programme specially for this purpose. Get in touch and I’ll be happy to send you more details!