A systematic approach to self-awareness

Effective leaders know their strengths as well as their weaknesses.

by Stephen Jones & Adam Gale
Last Updated: 03 Sep 2019

We tend to notice when other people aren’t self-aware. Few will find it difficult to conjure  examples of thoughtlessness or hypocrisy from old bosses or colleagues, but we rarely think this problem applies to ourselves.

Consider this though: people who aren’t self-aware all think that they are. It’s the nature of the beast. And it can have serious consequences for your judgement and your leadership. 

Unfortunately, recognising you have a problem - while an important first step - won’t make it go away. 

"Everyone has their own ‘paradigm’; a mixture of their early experiences, social messages and context that make you who you are and generally shape how you see the world," says  Ashley Bookman, a negotiation specialist and founder of consultancy Momentum. 

This paradigm is generally ingrained by the age of seven and influences the decisions we make throughout our lives, as well as how we see ourselves and others. 

The problem for the vast majority of us is our paradigm remains fairly stable, or stubborn. The natural desire for comfort and stability means that we tend to seek situations and relationships that are familiar to what we know, which makes it difficult to grow with changing experiences. 

This can mean that when we come into contact with someone who holds a different worldview we can struggle to relate to them, or unconsciously discriminate against them. (Evidenced perhaps by the general lack of diversity that pervades all sectors of business.)

"Developing your own self-awareness can be tricky because you don’t know what you don’t know," says Bookman. However, it is possible to challenge yourself and why you think as you do, and it begins by asking yourself a few important questions. 

Why do you think that?

There are some things that we take as unconditionally and intuitively true, for example that humans need water to survive or that the value of FTSE 100 shares increases or decreases with market sentiment. 

The problem is that often, without us knowing, these facts often become blurred with our assumptions of what is true, based on our background and predominant experiences: that there are certain jobs for men and certain jobs for women or that a successful CEO has to talk and act in a specific way, for example.

Identifying what these are will help you raise awareness of your unconscious mindset, which in turn will help you make decisions and understand why others come to certain conclusions. 

What question are you trying to answer?

There are generally two types of question we ask ourselves when making a decision: process questions - what’s the right way to do this task? - and directional questions - what are we actually trying to achieve and is doing the task going to help us get there? Confusing the two can lead to disastrous results.

Take the time to step back and consider whether you’re heading in the right direction for the whole team and business, or whether you’re defaulting to thinking only about how you’ll get there.

Are you your own "best supporter"?

This doesn’t mean believing you’re always right, but rather accepting that you are human too. 

Without appreciating what makes you ‘you’ -  that includes your strengths as well as your weaknesses - you will never be able to understand the way that others operate or why they may have reacted in a certain way.

We cannot always know the answer, and sometimes we will make a wrong decision, but that doesn't mean we’re a failure, it just highlights a current gap in our knowledge and acts as a valuable experience. 

Letting go of that fear of being wrong is an essential step in becoming more self-aware and, says Bookman, "once leaders have better self awareness of themselves, it leads to better relationships with colleagues, clients and family." 

Ashley Bookman hosted a Momentum’s Optimising Your Own Performance session at the Department for International Trade.

Image credit: MissTuni vis Getty images



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