• Jon Keating

Self Awareness and Leadership

A few years ago I studied with a group called the Contemplative Leaders in Action at St. Louis University. We were tasked with completing a capstone project that intertwined the values of contemplative leadership (applying morality and justice to leadership positions) and our everyday business practices. As a business owner at the time, I grew interested in finding ways to more deeply engrain ethical and moral principles into my organization’s work. The research I leaned on stemmed from the book Heroic Leadership, by Chris Lowney. One observation focused on how great leadership is shaped by four core values:

  • Self-Awareness: The understanding of strengths and weaknesses.

  • Ingenuity: Innovation and adaptation in an ever changing world.

  • Love: Positive engagement with others.

  • Heroism: Energizing ambitions through real concerted action.

This week self-awareness in the workplace has again caught my attention.

When considering how to practice self-awareness in your business, I would consider the following, “Only the person who knows what he or she wants can pursue it energetically and inspire others to do so. Only those who have pinpointed their weaknesses can conquer them” (Chris Lowney). Research from Gallup helps drive this point home in an even more focused manner, “…researchers have studied human behavior and strengths for decades and discovered that building employees' strengths is a far more effective approach than a fixation on weaknesses,” self-awareness focuses on improving yourself and your output as a leader. Gallup also states, “At its worst, …lack of self-awareness can lead to masses of disengaged employees, unhappy customers, and undue stress beyond the workplace.”

It is important as a leader to seek opportunities to learn and grow while considering what you can do to make your people even better. Those that show up with blinders on, or lacking self-awareness, run the risk of missing subtle market shifts or changes in culture dynamics that could ultimately leave them in reactive mode rather than a proactive one. Great leaders and managers work towards identifying their people’s greatest assets and skills and move them away from their weakness and towards their strengths. This aspect of self-awareness is critical to improving company culture, employee engagement, and therefore your payroll investment.

As a leader, it is helpful to regularly ask, “What do I not know? What context would help me make a better decision?”

Below are a few questions to ponder that will help identify and improve your self-awareness and leadership acumen:

1. How often am I as a leader or manager, meeting with my employees one on one?

  • According to a Gallup study, “Employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not hold regular meetings with them.” It goes on to state one of the leading causes of employee disengagement is when they feel ignored.

2. Leaders and managers are models for your organization’s core values and purpose. Do your day-to-day actions inspire your employees or highlight a riff between the organization’s messaging and actions? Are there areas where you can be more demonstrative of the behaviors you want your people to engage in?

3. Do I fully trust my team? Does my team fully trust me? If there was stronger mutual trust between management and employees, would we operate differently?

  • “High trust: Employees who trust their leadership are twice as likely to say they will be with their company one year from now."

  • "Low trust: When people don't trust leadership, they're already planning their exit and have no interest in making a new strategy work or creating new customer initiatives. There's nothing in it for them; they've already mentally checked out.”

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