Five Signs You are a Self-Aware Leader

Self-Aware Leader

Years ago, a CEO I was working with said to me, “You know, no one gets to be a CEO without an ego.” What struck me about his comment was that I perceived him as one of the lowest ego CEOs I have ever worked with. He possessed the self-awareness to understand that he had an ego, but obviously he kept it in check. He was often genuinely self-deprecating and was very well respected in his company, his industry and–indeed–worldwide. This CEO delivered superior results to his shareholders and did it in the right way.

Great organizations and teams that deliver consistent results are most often led by leaders with high self-awareness. Leaders practice self-awareness when they:

1. Create a development culture.

No attempt at self, team or organizational improvement will succeed if the underlying culture isn’t supportive of sustainable excellence. You have to create an environment where feedback is viewed as nothing more than data. It is evaluated objectively and acted upon if necessary rather than taken personally. Everyone understands feedback is given and received only for the purpose of making the individual leader, and the overall team, more effective. Do you dread feedback and performance reviews or look forward to these opportunities? What would your people say about your reviews of them? The answer to these questions will let you know whether or not you have created a development culture.

2. Collect and welcome valid information about your leadership.

The emphasis here is on the word “valid.” Many organizations, teams and corporations collect feedback in the form of 360 evaluations and the like. They end up with lots of charts and graphs but without a nuanced understanding of the impact of their leadership, or specific actions or behaviors that will make them more effective. In my experience, the best way for senior leaders to obtain valid information is through an interview-based, external process. A C-suite leader once confessed to me that he wouldn’t think of being honest in an internally based 360 process. I believe internally based assessments can play a helpful role at more junior levels in organizations. However, senior leaders need to be assured of confidentiality in order to commit to the vulnerability necessary for honest feedback. Do you have trusted, external advisors?

3. Commit to specific actions and behavioral change.

After receiving valid feedback, self-aware leaders focus on 3-5 major actions and behaviors they commit to changing. They develop specific action steps to enable them to achieve these changes. They specify definite time lines for each of their action steps. Ideally, they also engage an internal colleague to periodically provide feedback during important meetings and other performances as these changes progress.

4. Share your commitments with your team.

A leader who shares his or her development goals with their team and asks for ongoing feedback around those goals benefits from this robust process. In some rare instances, leaders need to prioritize decisiveness and not worry about management style or their impact on others. More often, though, a leader who sets an example of routinely soliciting feedback reaps greater collaboration, openness and superior results. Do you ask your team how you can improve and best serve them as their leader?

5. Assess your progress.

The quote “what gets measured gets done” has been attributed to several different authors. Regardless of the origin, the principle is true. After 6-12 months following original commitments to change, the external consultant should re-interview as many of the original interviewees as possible: teams and organizations change. This subsequent look allows the self-aware leader to track progress, identify areas where they fell short and determine where renewed effort is necessary.

It is possible to deliver some successful quarters or years without the benefit of self-awareness as a leader. But you can’t expect your organization to demonstrate sustainable excellence unless you nurture this quality in yourself. Sustainable excellence involves consistently delivering outstanding results over time. Becoming a self-aware leader takes work, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. Self-aware leaders are confident and decisive, yet also humble and grateful. They are quick to genuinely give praise to their team. They know what they know, and more importantly, what they don’t know. As your self-awareness increases, the performance, morale and energy of your team and organization will exponentially increase. People want to follow self-aware leaders.

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