Sunday, August 1, 2010

Could a lack of “self awareness” be holding back your career?

Jane is a highly intelligent, capable and “take charge” leader. The problem is no one really wants to work with her! The level of churn, “grizzle” and disengagement in her team is extremely high. According to Jane the problem is “those people” – the finger is definitely pointing elsewhere and the situation has little to do with her or her leadership style. When her manager gives her feedback, she becomes defensive and argumentative, makes excuses and quickly shifts responsibility on to others as to why things may have gone wrong. Unfortunately for Jane, everyone else in the organization sees her as being “the problem” but she lacks that essential skill of self awareness to get this. Consequently she is rapidly sliding down the path of career derailment.

So what exactly is self awareness and why is it so important? Self awareness is the ability to be in tune with one’s feelings and emotions in the moment and its impact on one’s relationship and work performance. It is a critical competency in emotional and spiritual intelligence (EQ and SQ) and is the fundamental building block for success in life. Self awareness enables us to make insightful and sharper decisions and course-correct as we go. It facilitates improved, authentic relationship within and with others – our boss, colleagues, team members, clients, suppliers, family and friends. We are more effective in life when we exhibit high levels of self-awareness.

So how do we harness and develop this core competency in business and our personal lives? As Sir John Whitmore, author of the best selling Coaching for Performance and many times winner of the British and European motor racing champion puts it, “we have a measure of choice and control over what we are aware of, but what we are unaware of controls us.”

Here are five things which will lead to increased self awareness:

1) Become aware and mindful of how you are feeling in the moment.
2) Try naming these emotions and feelings.
3) Notice when your
feelings and mood change – say if you find yourself getting upset or excited.
4) Ask yourself
why this might be the case
5) Become conscious of the
impact of your feelings and emotions on your thoughts and consequent behavior

Self awareness is a powerful aspect of self-reflection – a practice most managers and leaders need to regularly engage in to stay on track with their work, performance and life goals. This ability to stand back and critically evaluate one’s thoughts, assumptions, values and behavior and take corrective action is the basis for problem-solving, building great teams and for learning and development. As a client said, “regular self-reflection – putting aside 30 minutes first thing in the morning - has enabled me to take a helicopter view and focus on the priorities. I am no longer fire fighting and am able to address the important, not just the urgent.”

The role of feedback

In a management role and life, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses is a powerful ally. Being open to feedback and reflecting on our experiences are two other significant ways of increasing our self awareness. Our so-called failures can also provide fertile ground for increased self awareness and learning.

In business settings, self awareness can be fast tracked through management and leadership development courses and executive coaching. A key component to any learning and development programme is self-assessment along with 360-degree feedback from ones colleagues, direct reports, and manager. In some instances, suppliers and customers can also be part of this process.

When it comes to feedback, there are broadly four windows to self and other awareness: (Joharis window)

1) What we know about ourselves and others do too
2) What we know about ourselves but others don’t
3) What we don’t know about ourselves and others don’t as well
4) What others know about us but we don’t

Feedback and leadership effectiveness

It is in the fourth category that feedback if listened to and taken on board can have a significant impact on one’s management or leadership style.

If you are getting feedback about some aspect of your leadership style that you may have filtered out than now is the time to take notice. A senior executive thought he demonstrated high levels of responsibility and was good at holding others to account and yet his profile showed up a rather low score of three out of ten! It was a real eye opener for when he came face to face with his integrity and values profile and realized there were some serious gaps between what he thought and what he actually did.
Changing his thinking and behavior took some time and commitment but the rewards were well worth it.

Positive outcomes in the form of higher productivity, improved team and business relationships and positive feedback from those in your immediate environment can be not only rewarding but also humbling. This was the case with another senior manager I was coaching who had been branded as someone with a confrontational and aggressive style. Though initially questioning ( of course!) of the results of his feedback, he was able to take this feedback on board as he realized that his attitude and behaviour were not serving him at all - not to mention others.

Over a period of twelve months involving conscious awareness of his mind-set and behaviour, reflection and feedback, he was able to change his leadership style to a much more constructive one. The biggest win was that he managed to side-step career derailment at a critical time in his career.

Three steps to increase your leadership effectiveness:
1) Ask for feedback.

You may wish to ask 5-6 people for some key strengths as well as one thing you could do better to achieve your specified goals.

2) Listen to this feedback.

No, I mean really listen! More often than not, there will be a theme from your feedback providers. Listen with an open heart and mind.

3) Take action

Decide what one thing you are going to focus on and enjoy growing your awareness and wisdom.

Jasbindar Singh – is a leadership coach, an Integrity and values licensee and an author. She helps managers and leaders grow and deepen their self awareness and leadership effectiveness.