We’re drowning in the research. We know that self-awareness is an essential leadership skill. The fact that most leaders are lacking in self-awareness is well established. I’m more interested in why––and what we can do about it.
Self-awareness is the distinguishing characteristic of THE SENSEI LEADER trait of “Wisdom.”
Wisdom is the sum of knowledge and experience––tempered by awareness. There are plenty of smart, experienced people who are not necessarily wise––and some of them take up valuable office space. The best leaders are people who take the time to look in the mirror once in a while…
And the best mirror for any leader is the people you serve. This means you’ve got to be a good listener.
Listening is the first step toward self-awareness. It doesn’t necessarily mean that every person’s every opinion is accurate or right. You have to filter this information and weigh any number of variables.
The next step is the actual act of self-reflection.
I always ask the leaders in our workshops if they take time for self-reflection. While they acknowledge how important it is, most sadly, though not surprisingly, spend little or no time in self-reflection.
Their reasons are understandable, but not acceptable. The Top 3 are:
Not enough time
More pressing demands
Prioritizing other people’s needs
This is one of the few areas where I become a dictator. I insist that you take time to look in the mirror––and not to check your hair!
One of the best self-reflection practices is simple meditation. This doesn’t need to take a lot of time. All you need is a little discipline and commitment. Studies have shown that as little as 5 minutes a day can produce remarkable results.
But having said that––I do highly recommend that you take at least one full day each year to commit to an uninterruptible day of reflection. This is not a day for planning. It is not a day to “catch-up” on anything. You just go somewhere and think.
Some people like to go for a long walk in the woods. I know some who just sail to nowhere on their boat. Some check in to a quiet hotel for a day. Others find quiet in their backyards or on a peaceful beach.
Once you’ve found your spot, start with these two simple but amazingly powerful questions:
Who am I?
Who do I serve?
I don’t want to help you much with the “who am I” question. I can tell you from personal experience that this simple question has led me to some of the most revealing and transformational insights in my life.
When you ask yourself who you serve, be very specific. Answer with names and faces. If you serve a large constituency, draw a picture in your mind and create individual characters to represent particular groups or types.
You can bring some other questions with you too, but it may be even more revealing to just start with these and see what other questions emerge.
Before we finish, I’ll address those major objections I shared with you earlier:
Carve it out. We all have the same amount of time. The time you invest in self-reflection will be returned exponentially as you focus your thoughts and efforts on creative and productive areas and eliminate useless and meaningless activities.
More pressing demands?
See above. It’s likely that you’ll drop some of these seemingly pressing demands once you take the time to consider their true value. Meanwhile, there is nothing more pressing for a leader than the continual commitment to self-improvement.
Prioritizing other people?
You are a much greater resource in the lives of others when you improve your “self.” Your self-reflection just might reveal key areas where you can learn, grow and improve and become more valuable to the people you serve.
And that’s reason enough to get started. Now.