How to Become a Better Leader by Increasing Your Self-Awareness
What is self-awareness? It’s cultivating self-knowledge. It’s making an effort to understand both your strengths and your weaknesses. It’s admitting when you’ve made a mistake, or when you don’t know the answer. It’s remaining aware of how others might perceive your words and actions. And it’s one of the most important qualities of a successful leader.
You might think that leadership means appearing infallible, but that’s just not possible. People are going to notice your personal weaknesses, even if you do your best to hide or ignore them. Acknowledging your own failings shows character, and makes members of your organization more likely to follow your lead.
So, how can you cultivate self-awareness? You’ll need to get to know yourself as well as possible. You might want to enlist friends, loved ones, and colleagues who can gently point out your flaws and draw attention to your strengths. Others can also help you change behaviors that you find detrimental. Outsourcing administrative tasks will give you more time to focus on cultivating the self-awareness that all great leaders need.
1. Know Yourself
Getting to know yourself isn’t as easy as it might first appear. Much self-knowledge comes with age, but you don’t have to wait until you’re old in order to gain a deeper understanding of your own strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.
Meditation is one time-honored technique for getting to know yourself. There are many different meditation techniques, but they all revolve around focusing your concentration on something — your breath, a mantra, or a burning candle flame, for example. You can find ample meditation resources online, including free guided meditations.
Journaling is another great way to get to know yourself. You can use a journal in a few different ways to gain self-knowledge. Benjamin Franklin reportedly used his journal to take an inventory of his own character traits, both positive and negative. He also recorded traits he wanted to develop in himself, and used this data to determine whether his character was developing in a worthwhile manner over time.
You can also use your journal to record your thoughts and feelings about business and personal decisions. Do as Warren Buffet does — write down your reasons for making each decision you make. Then, several months to a year later, revisit your rationale. Over time, you’ll gain some idea of how often you make illogical decisions, and how often your decisions are well-thought-out. This practice can help you learn more about your weaknesses and take action to correct them.
It’s difficult to truly understand how you come off to others without asking them directly for feedback. Your friends, family members, and even colleagues are good sources of information about how your words and actions feel to those on the receiving end.
Ask others for candid and objective, if tactful, evaluations of your strengths and weaknesses. If you’re asking a colleague, make sure you let the person know that you’re asking as a friend, not as a boss or coworker.
Friends can also help you improve yourself by alerting you when you’re engaging in behavior that you want to change or eliminate. Even though you may have gained enough self-knowledge to be aware of a weakness or flaw, that doesn’t mean you have enough self-awareness to instantly recognize the detrimental behavior in yourself each time it appears.
For example, if you’ve discovered that you have a bad habit of interrupting others and talking over them ask a trusted friend or colleague to let you know, discreetly, when you’re doing it again. This way, you can gradually learn to notice for yourself when you’re engaging in the detrimental behavior, and learn to stop.
3. Pay Attention to What Others Are Doing and Saying
Another great way to discover which of your character traits can be considered weaknesses and which ones can be considered strengths is to pay attention to what the people around you are saying and doing — even when it has nothing to do with you. Pay attention to which behaviors elicit a positive response from you when you encounter them. Listen when others are praising what they consider another person’s positive character traits. You can work on improving your own character by endeavoring to emulate the positive qualities of others.
Self-awareness is one of the most important qualities all great leaders possess, but it’s also one of the least talked about. By cultivating a solid understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, you can learn how to acknowledge your shortcomings. Not only will this leave you room for self-improvement, it’ll also make it much easier to surround yourself with team members whose own traits, qualities, and skills help to complement yours. Together, you’ll be able to take on more than you ever thought possible.