Every day you face situations, circumstances, and people you cannot control. As a leader, because you cannot control these things, it is important that you understand and learn to control yourself. Your leadership depends upon it. Even though a lot of your effectiveness is determined by factors you cannot control, you can still control how you respond to them.
This is why self-awareness is so important to leadership. You can not only improve your life but become the leader you are created to be by practicing self-awareness in your everyday life and situations.
Here are three practices that will help you become a more self-aware leader.
1.Focus upon the positive when in a negative situation.
This might seem simplistic, but it is more than positive thinking. When you are fully aware of the negative situation or circumstance in which you find yourself, you then have the opportunity to decide how you will respond or how you can change the way you want to react.
Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need help with an anger problem. You recognize that you do not like reacting before thinking and you don’t like the feelings you have after an expression of anger. You say to your trusted friend, “I have a quick temper, and it’s damaging my relationships.”
Your friend says to you, “Show me your quick temper. Demonstrate it to me?”
What would you say? “Well, I can’t right now. It happens suddenly.” Or “I can’t right now, I don’t have the people around me who make me angry.”
The question is “What is the problem?” If anger, uncontrollable anger was part of your true nature, it would be present all the time. Something that comes and goes is not a part of who you were created to be. Your emotions are not you, but they can gain control over you if you do not stop and reflect upon them and if you don’t begin to understand why you react the way you do.
Instead of focusing upon the negative, your anger, focus upon the people around you. Remember they are God’s children, just as you are God’s child. Each person has their own thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Just as God, through Christ, loves you with your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, God loves the people who irritate you or pull your chain, or you get the point. Reflect upon how God loves you and responds to you.
This little added sense of self-awareness will not magically create a smile. It won’t keep you from getting angry, but it does provide you with the opportunity to respond in a more healthy and Christlike way. You can decide that being angry is not going to control your response. Once you become conscious of your emotion, it no longer has control over you.
2. Recognize who you are and the effect you have on the people around you.
You cannot control 100% of your life, but you can control how you react to the stuff you can’t control. To better react or respond to external circumstances, you must know and understand your preferences, resources, and feelings.
Let’s think of it this way. Suppose you need some advice with several situations you are facing. Some of them are personal and some of them are professional, but all are situations in which you need and want some help.
So, you approach your trusted friend asking for advice. Your friend listens patiently. But when your friend tries to ask questions or offer some direction, you interrupt to interject your own thoughts, beliefs, solutions, not allowing your friend to finish many sentences.
After a while, your friend offers you a cup of tea. When pouring the tea, your friend continues pouring after the cup is full, causing it to overflow.
You say, “Stop pouring. The cup is full.”
Your friend stops pouring and says, “Today, you are too full of your own opinions. You want my help, but you have no room in your own cup to receive my advice or direction.”
Too often, we hold unconscious beliefs and opinions that make us rigid and closed-minded to learning and to expanding our awareness of the people around us. Self-awareness is knowing your preferences, resources, and feelings and being open to learn new ways of looking at the situations and circumstances in which you are living and working.
Understanding who you are and how you affect others allows you to react differently to the people around you. It is with such understanding that you can decide whether something angers or irritates you. Please know this is not always easy, but it has a big benefit to self-awareness.
3. Learn your emotional triggers.
When you know what triggers your reactions you are better equipped to deal with negative emotions.
This might be the most important aspect of self-awareness.
Let’s think of it this way. What do you do when you are angry, disappointed, or not taken seriously? Do you bottle up your emotions, keep them to yourself, pushing them deep inside, until you can’t hold them any longer? It is like holding a beach ball underwater. You can push it down beneath the surface and you can hold it there. But, without a lot of effort and energy, it usually forcefully pops back up to the surface. It is the same with suppressed emotions. The emotions surface at the most unlikely times and in inappropriate ways.
Have you ever reflected upon a reaction that was not appropriate? At the time, you might not have been fully aware of what was going on with your emotions. But afterward, you thought you could have handled the situation differently. You could have known what triggered your reaction and refocused your response.
It might seem silly, but you have had your feelings hurt. You feel bad about it. You want to reach out and react. Instead, you hold on to your hurt feelings and turn the event into something bigger and nastier than it really was.
If you are not self-aware, you might lash out and explode. Your reaction only amplifies the negativity. Emotions, especially when expressed negatively, tend to increase in heated situations.
When you know what triggers your emotions, you can learn to control your emotions. When you are self-aware, you are able to stop your reaction and begin to respond in more appropriate ways.
When you start to rationally question your own emotions, you are much better prepared to get rid of the negativity inside:
- Are you truly angry at the other person?
- Are you reacting to your own insecurities and fears?
- Why do you need to say hurtful things?
- What’s in it for you?
Self-awareness helps you to ask these questions in difficult times. This can be very challenging, but by simply being aware of your emotions and what triggers your reaction, you can improve the quality of your life and your ability to lead with courage.
Who You Are Is How You Lead
At this point, you might feel like you are in a therapy session. One reason you might feel this way is because it is so important to you as a person and as a leader.
This is what I want you to do this week. Take 5 minutes at the end of the day to reflect upon the situations and circumstances of the day. Reflect upon one or two of the following (no particular order):
- The meetings you attended,
- The people with whom you had interaction,
- What you have said and done throughout the day.
- Celebrate what has gone well.
- Give God thanks for what you have learned.
- What could have been done differently?
- If I had been aware of my feelings, would I have said anything differently?
- Have I offended anyone?
- Who do I need to contact to express appreciation for helping me become more who I am created to be?
- Who do I need to contact to ask forgiveness for my lack of self-awareness?
This exercise is a powerful way to develop a healthy self-awareness. As you develop the practice, you will add your own questions to better assist you in the process. Becoming more aware of who you are and how you respond or react will help inform your path towards self-awareness and growth.
I already know it is not an easy process. Sometimes it can be painful. But you will develop the most important quality needed in leaders today. Your positive impact will live on far after you have completed your work at this time in history.
Remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.
Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about self-awareness. This week we have a conversation with Curnell Graham. He turns self-awareness inside out and invites you to focus on God-awareness. Check out Episode 168 – Self-Awareness as God-Awareness. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.