Cultivating Self-Awareness

This blog was written by Rick Callahan, an Executive Search Consultant at Vanderbloemen.

Self Awareness is the ability to understand your thoughts, behaviors, and interactions. It has become a popular concept recently in corporate settings and we think for good reason. In Chinwe Esimai’s Forbes article Great Leadership Starts With Self Awareness, she notes: “Self-awareness has been cited as the most important capability for leaders to develop.” 

Have you ever been around someone who dominates the conversation, constantly interrupts, or can’t stop talking about themselves? We all have worked with that person, or worse, maybe from someone who is truly “for” you, let you know that you’re that person. No one’s perfect, right? Especially those in the crucible of leadership. 

I’ve yet to meet a leader whose agenda is to pollute their organization with dysfunctional behavior. Yet, as leaders, we can do exactly that. And more often than not, the root of toxic culture in organizations is the blind spots of the leader. We are blissfully unaware of how our own dysfunction and lack of emotional health trickles down to those we lead. The truth is, like it or not, we, as leaders, eventually reproduce who we are.

What’s the solution? I’m sure there are multiple remedies. However, I’d like to suggest a starting place that has enormous potential to create the most positive impact in you and the people you lead. Cultivating Self Awareness.

According to the authors of How To Become a Better Leader, “Successful leaders know where their natural inclinations lie and use this knowledge to boost those inclinations or compensate for them.” Esimai also cites “a study of the stock performance of 486 publicly traded companies, Korn/Ferry International found that companies with strong financial performance tend to have employees with higher levels of self-awareness than poorly performing companies.” 

Beyond the studies, as people of faith, we know that God meets us where we actually are. He knows where we are. His desire is for us to become the version of ourselves He created us to be. Problem is, sometimes we aren’t cooperating because we’re oblivious or in denial about who we really are right now. We need a look in the mirror.

Self Awareness is not obsessive introspection or constant navel-gazing. Self Awareness is honestly and intentionally examining my motives and behavior by inviting feedback from people who love me and are “for” me. Getting a clearer picture of who I am right now, so I can more accurately assess where I am on the road to who God designed me to be. Then, with the Holy Spirit’s help, start integrating some intentional Practices, engaging in stretching, growth Experiences, and cultivating authenticity deep and mutually submitted Relationships to help navigate the transformational journey toward greater Self Awareness.

I've been on this transformational journey toward greater Self Awareness for the past decade (Oh, how I wish I had started sooner!) I’m not there yet, but here are some “AHA’s” on my journey toward greater self-awareness that may be helpful…

Recognize that all of life is spiritual (God wants to be with me in everything) and interconnected. Compartmentalizing my “spiritual” life or “private” life from my “work” or “church” life doesn’t do good work in me. However, as I invite the Holy Spirit to be with me in everything, asking for “ears to hear and eyes to see,” I tend to be more present to those around me and focus less on me… which translates to good leadership.

Better understand your wiring. Take advantage of tools like DISC, Enneagram, Meyers Briggs, Strengths Finders, Five Fold Gifting APEST, Spiritual Gifts assessments and so. These tools help us get a better handle on our tendencies, strengths, and growth areas. Again, these assessments are just tools that help explain us, not excuse unhealthy or dysfunctional behavior. I’ve found it extremely helpful to be a student of how people around me are wired as well. I can better relate to them and learn to speak their language.

Hunt down your Shadow Mission. There is a dark side to everyone in leadership. We struggle with differentiation, identity issues, enmeshment, boundaries, control, fear, and hidden agendas. The list goes on and on. Identifying and confronting our shadow mission is essential to being a healthy leader worth following. Pete Scazerro has done excellent work to aid in this “seek and destroy” mission in The Emotionally Healthy Leader. He also writes about Shadow Missions in this blog post.

Listen twice as much as you speak. We’ve all heard… “Two ears... One mouth,” right? I need daily reminders to be more “interested” than “interesting”.

Integrate healthy practices that can help break dysfunctional patterns and habits. I’m far from an expert in this realm, but I’ve gleaned so much from Steve Cuss and his Managing Leadership Anxiety book, podcast, and Capable Life community.

Take Sabbath Seriously. Sabbath made the Top Ten for a reason, yet we leaders often think we’re the exception to the rule. I need to Sabbath, for no other reason, but to be reminded that God can do His job when I’m off the clock. Not to mention the benefits of recalibrating body, soul, mind, and relationships. I’ve found Sabbath to be much more rejuvenating when I’ve incorporated something from my Life Giving List. If you're a Pastor, you've preached this sermon. Are we practicing what we preach when it comes to Sabbath

As leaders, we reproduce who we are. Am I aware of who I am? Am I intentional about who I am becoming? 

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