In our last blog post, we (Martha and Claressa) discussed Leadership University — a program designed to help leaders truly understand the concept of “self as leader.”
This discussion led to a mention of “emotional intelligence” and the five components that work together to make it so important. We think emotional intelligence is monumental enough to give each of those five components the attention they deserve — starting with self-awareness.
What Is Self Awareness?
Claressa: Martha, what is self-awareness to you? How does it fit into your understanding of emotional intelligence?
“Being self-aware is to truly have a clear understanding of who you are.”
Martha: The term “self-awareness,” while pretty self-explanatory, is a very big deal. It’s simply a matter of recognizing your strengths and limitations… but we all know that’s not always the easiest thing to do. Being self-aware is to truly have a clear understanding of who you are. It’s neither inflated nor understated. It’s having an accurate pulse of your strengths, your opportunities, your emotions, and your ability to function in different scenarios. It’s knowing yourself well so that you can be strategic in your interactions with others.
Claressa: So, if I’m hearing you right, self-awareness is basically just being realistic about yourself?
“Understanding yourself helps you to better understand others.”
Claressa: It’s also the willingness to be honest with yourself (and others) about the attributes you bring to the table. Understanding yourself helps you to better understand others. Can you talk a bit about how self-awareness contributes to success as a leader?
Martha: Sure! We find that people who have a high sense of self-awareness choose roles and careers that they value — roles they know play to their strengths and passions.
Claressa: So they’re self-selecting into careers they know will be satisfying.
Martha: Yes! Their values are being enhanced rather than impeded by their sense of work. They’re naturally going to excel in the areas they already lean toward. Because they’re already the right fit for the job, you’re going to see great things out of a person with a high sense of self-awareness. Another side-effect of being self-aware is that — because they are so good at reading themselves — these people tend to be successful in reading the others around them.
Claressa: They’re going to be able to give that feedback using a more neutral approach.
Martha: Definitely. They’re not going to over-inflate people, and they’re not going to criticize them, either. They’re going to give a very realistic sense of where they are as well as where others are. That kind of feedback is what you need for everyone to grow.
Claressa: What I love is that someone who is self-aware tends to align their decision-making with their values and goals. That’s huge when you’re leading by example for others — knowing the decisions you’re making match those goals ethically and morally.
Martha: Not to mention knowing what your capabilities are and what they are not.
Claressa: Exactly. That goes right back to those individuals as leaders who are willing to step back and ask for help. We’ve talked about this before: It doesn’t matter what level of leadership you’re at — being able to say “I don’t have all the answers” is the prime example of someone who is truly self-aware.
Martha: You don’t usually see someone with a high sense of self-awareness taking on too much by themselves. They’re calculated in their decision-making and are able to determine whether or not they can handle it on their own. They know when the best strategic move is to partner with someone who is more qualified to help them to success.
Claressa: They know the strengths of the people around them, know what those people can bring to the table.
Martha: Yes, and you know what I find interesting? These self-aware people, these really ideal leaders, can often be perceived by outsiders as weak. You and I both know, of course, that this is untrue, and what’s great about self-aware people is that they also know it to be untrue. Those outside thoughts and comments don’t bother them, because those who are self-aware know that being able to talk about your feelings, strengths, and limitations is something positive, not something negative.
“You don’t have to know everything about the area that you are overseeing, or the job that you’re doing. You have to know who knows all of those things, who has all of the answers.”
Claressa: You’ve hit on something that I’ve always held close throughout my leadership years. Once, I had a leader tell me, “You don’t have to know everything about the area that you are overseeing, or the job that you’re doing. You have to know who knows all of those things, who has all of the answers.”
The moral of today’s tale?
Martha: Self-awareness is one of the most important traits a leader can cultivate. Knowing your strengths, knowing your limitations, and surrounding yourself with people who are going to help you is exactly how to get your goals accomplished.