Self-Awareness: Becoming More Objective About Self

When asked if it would be characteristic of him to share with his direct reports what he needs to work on in himself, a leader asked me what I meant.  As we talked more about the topic, it became apparent to me that not only would it not occur to him to share such information with others, but I had the distinct impression that the very idea that he needed to work on himself was a foreign thought. With such a lack of self-awareness, how can one get a leg up on managing one’s own contribution to leadership and relationship challenges?  The answer is simple, one can’t. As depicted in the following diagram, growing one’s own self-awareness is the beginning point for what I refer to as Self-Leadership.


Self Development Process

There is more to self-awareness than simply knowing what I could work on in my own functioning.  Below are dimensions of self-awareness that I routinely reflect on, investigate, observe, test and actively work to strengthen in myself.

1.  Clarity regarding beliefs, values and anchoring principles:  Taking the time to reflect on and clarify, in my own thinking, what beliefs I hold.  In addition to knowing beliefs, subjecting those beliefs to self-scrutiny.  What beliefs have I simply adopted from others and what beliefs have I arrived at through my own personal experience and reasoning?  What values are most important to me?  What principles can I observe governing the world I live in that I can use to anchor my thinking in something more than a subjective opinion or feeling?

2.  Clarity regarding my most important goals and purpose:  The clearer I am on what I am trying to accomplish, the greater chance I have of aligning my actions with my goals.  In any situation, asking myself, “What is my purpose right now?”, provides a clearer lens for seeing a path toward my goals.

3.  Family history:  Knowledge of my multi-generational family history provides insight into emotional and behavioral patterns to which I am vulnerable.  This kind of insight is not possible by reading books, studying theory or working in any other domain outside the family.  By gaining as much factual information as possible about how people functioned in previous generations, my own “programming” becomes evident.  Particularly, these patterns are likely to show up in me when under sufficient stress.  Without knowledge of family history, true self-awareness is severely hampered.

4.  Knowledge of conditions for optimal functioning:  How clear are you on the conditions under which you perform at your best?  When you have an experience of “being in the zone,” is it a fluke?  Additionally, who do you view as responsible for creating those conditions?  I work to become clearer over time on what those conditions include and view myself as responsible for creating those conditions.  This includes physical conditions (my body), mental conditions and environmental conditions.

5.  Knowledge of how my behavior influences others:  Paying attention to how others respond to me can offer much opportunity for self-awareness.  When I speak, do others get engaged or fall asleep?  Do I find myself back peddling and explaining what I meant due to frequent misunderstandings?  What can you notice about how others respond to you?

6.  Disciplined self-reflection:  Engaging in self-reflection is, in my view, a necessary ingredient in the recipe for self-awareness.  Here, I am talking about regular written reflection on what went on, how I handled myself and my assessment of my own functioning.  Does the way I handled my self in any given situation line up with beliefs, values, principles, goals and purpose?  Are there any conditions that I failed to manage that contributed to a mishandling of a situation?  What aspects of my behavior are reflective of historical family patterns.  What does the manifestation of those patterns reveal about my own level of stress and anxiety?  This kind of self-reflection takes a disciplined commitment to looking at self in both good times and bad times.  It is also what enables me to shift my functioning over time.

Self-Awareness is the first step in Self-Leadership, and feeds the next phase in the cycle of growth, Self-Regulation.  One cannot regulate what one is not aware of.  Once one gets over the initial shock of becoming radically self-reflective, there is a world of opportunity for growth.  These opportunities for growth are in front of us all of the time, if we would only pause and notice. Best wishes on your quest for self-awareness.

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