Conventional wisdom has revealed that self-awareness is a critical step to effective leadership.
A research-backed, well developed assessment that helps identify behavioral styles, strengths and blindspots can help spotlight how a person’s typical way of doing impacts others around them. Paired with a comprehensive 360 survey, these two tools are a perfect springboard for figuring out where to start with a plan for self-improvement. But all that self-awareness will go to waste if it isn’t paired with an equal commitment to self-management by the leader.
Self-management is where the real challenge comes into play. Making change requires doing things differently than you are used to and is almost always uncomfortable. Changing habits is hard and often includes a period of feeling out of control. When we learn new ways of operating, we must lean into accepting incompetence as we break old habits. However, with a strong will and perseverance, self-management is a skill that can be learned or relearned. Like a muscle, we just have to flex it and we can come out on the other side with a new sense of accomplishment.
So how do you flex that muscle? How do you replace a preferred way of doing things or an unconscious habit with a more productive behavior? Let’s look at an example of how this process gets put into practice from the perspective of a participant in a Rockstar Workforce leadership development workshop.
Reflection Creates Awareness And Leads To Action
A toxic habit I have observed in the way I typically operate is to be the first to speak up. Being bold has served me well up to this point. I have had several jobs that required me to sort through chaos and create something new without others to consult in figuring out the best decisions. But I am now in a new space and have realized that I need to replace that hard-wired habit of voicing my opinions up front with listening more and learning from others. I am surrounded by talented leadership with a vast amount of experience and expertise. I’ve had a great opportunity to work on this through a months-long project contributing to my team’s business consulting work. I have no experience in business consulting so it was the perfect chance to work on my self-management skills while working at developing active listening skills. Simply put, the process of self-management involves four essential steps.
Step 1: Be in the here and now. In practice, this is paying attention to what is happening in the moment and resisting the urge to multi-task or allow competing priorities and thoughts to distract your focus.
To put this into action, before each consulting meeting, I reminded myself that to grow, I needed to observe rather than speak. As I fulfilled my role to record everyone’s contributions in the consulting meetings, I observed my boss and paid attention to the way he facilitated the meetings. I tried to notice how he adjusted his language, tone, and body language to skillfully guide the conversation and run an efficient meeting. I noticed phrases he used to rein in those who went off topic or engaged in circular arguments. I saw how he used humor to lighten the mood. I took notes on how he expertly reworded unclear communication to get everyone on the same page.
Step 2: Be self-aware. In practice, this is noticing what you are thinking, feeling, doing, saying or considering.
Often, in these meetings, there were open requests for everyone to contribute ideas. As I replaced my default habit of stating my thoughts without delay, I noticed how I felt uncomfortable as I changed my behavior in a way that didn’t align with my preferred way of operating. I examined what was causing it. I realized that I feared being viewed as a passive participant. I leaned into that discomfort and reminded myself that by holding back, I would create space to observe and learn and avoid uninformed contributions that would not be useful to the group.
Step 3: Identify your options. In practice, this requires thinking of alternative actions you can take.
As I leaned into changing my behavior, I analyzed a range of choices I had and how they would impact my desired outcome. I internally reinforced the option of listening and asking questions.
Step 4: Choose the behavior that will be most beneficial to the change you wish to make.
In this case, I chose to keep listening. I noticed that by replacing speaking with asking questions, I was able to gather important information and background knowledge I needed to best complete my reports after the meetings that I might have missed otherwise. In the process I gained important business and industry specific vocabulary that I lacked which improved my ability to execute my writing tasks.
The first couple of meetings in which I put this into practice were highly uncomfortable for me. Even as I observed the benefits of changing my behavior, I continually second guessed myself and analyzed my performance. However, with each successive meeting, I gained confidence in my approach. Slowly, I found myself in a better position to make small contributions here and there which also helped alleviate my former anxiety that had cropped up in the initial consultation meetings. The growth process was awkward and painful at times, but I learned so much from the process. I am not finished learning and I will continue to work at it. However, relearning how to self-manage has been my most transformative accomplishment of the past year. I can keep this re-discovered muscle with each negative trait that I endeavor to change going forward. My new-found confidence in the process will help me push through inevitable discomfort and shorten the learning curve no matter what area I choose to try and improve.
Your own reflection and self awareness may lead you down a completely different path. But, as you can see in the example above, a self-aware leader takes the time to develop their leadership skills with intention and determination.