When making a list of the most important qualities of a leader, you might include vision, courage, integrity, focus, organizational skills, and the ability to communicate clearly. Each of these qualities, along with a dozen others, are needed by leaders and wanted by followers. But according to those who study leadership, the quality that should be at the top of the list isn’t any of these obvious characteristics. The most important ability a leader should have is self-awareness.
Self-awareness often gets overlooked because we see the consequences of it, but we don’t identify it as the cause of those consequences. For example, we all want leaders who are good listeners, who can see both sides of an argument, and who know when to delegate and when to take a more hands-on approach. The skill behind each of those capabilities is self-awareness.
Regardless of how much you know, how many workshops you have taken or seminars you have attended, the very heart and soul of your leadership grows out of your understanding of who you are and why you are a leader.
Who Are You?
Let’s think of this way. What do you think about when you reflect upon the question, “Who am I?” Do you describe what you do? Do you identify yourself with your occupation or a position you hold? Do you identify yourself with the friends and family, or what you have accomplished?
You might say, “I am the CEO of my own company and I live with my family in Upper Arlington.” Or “I am a student at The Ohio State University, and I am graduating with honors.” Or I might say, “I am a district superintendent in the United Methodist Church, and I oversee 120 churches in central Ohio.”
Each of the statements are true, but none of the three statements identifies who you are or who I am. The reality is you are not what you do or produce. You are not the positions you hold, the degrees you have earned, or the money you have made. Yet, for most of us, we rarely take the time to reflect upon the real nature of our existence, of who we are, and how we are perceived by the people around us.
Self-awareness Begins with Who You Are
Self-awareness is about learning to understand why you feel what you feel and why you respond or react the way you do. Once you begin to understand yourself and your actions you then can change things about yourself. As you begin to understand yourself you have the opportunity to become the leader you were created to be.
Having clarity about who you are and who you want to be is empowering. It gives you the confidence and courage needed to make the changes.
If you are still with me, try this little exercise. Think about describing yourself to another person without mentioning anything about the external things that are in your life. Don’t mention what you do, positions you hold, your friends, family, degrees, etc. Focus only on yourself. Reflect upon how you feel and how you respond or react to the people around you. Identify your strengths, what you do well, and what you don’t like doing at all.
This might not be an easy exercise, if self-reflection is not a part of your daily routine. You might get caught up in irrational thoughts and beliefs and begin to tell yourself that this exercise is foolish or a waste of time. You know, both might be true, but the story you are telling yourself affects the way you perceive yourself as well as affects your feelings and actions toward being a leader.
If self-reflection is a part of your daily routine, you might begin to understand your thoughts and actions in a way that helps you better relate to and empathize with the people around you, especially the people entrusted to your care.
You Are a Child of God
When you better understand yourself, you are able to experience yourself as a unique human being, a child of God. And in all humility, you can admit that you are good in who God created you to be. You become aware of what you are good at doing while accepting what you still must learn to become a whole and complete human being. This includes admitting when you don’t have the answers or taking the responsibility of your mistakes.
Too often, many of us operate on the belief that we must appear as though we know everything all the time. When you are not sure of who you are, you become intimidated when someone questions your ability or challenges your leadership.
If you are honest with yourself, you will admit that really the opposite is true. Because whether you acknowledge your weaknesses or not, everyone still sees them. You highlight your weaknesses when you try to hide them. This is one of the pitfalls of poor leadership. In trying to hide your weaknesses you create the perception of a lack of integrity and lack of self-awareness.
Leader, Know Yourself
As a leader who is self-aware, you know yourself. You know who you are and from where you come. You know your strengths and weaknesses. You know what you hold as valuable. You are aware of your personality traits, interests, talents, and skills. Becoming self-aware is a process that occurs through intentionally reflecting upon who you are and how you relate to others.
So, are you ready to make some time for self-reflection?
First, think about the story you tell yourself about who you are.
Use these questions:
- What events have been most impactful or defining in your life? Identify at least three.
- What emotions, values, strengths, mistakes do you observe. Are you able to name them and to own them?
- What words do you use to describe your feelings and behavior?
- What have you learned about yourself that can make you a better leader?
Your reflections will be both positive and negative. The events you name might be the loss of a loved one, a job opportunity that challenged your capabilities and self-perception, or witnessing a key social or political event. Take your time to feel what you feel. Name it and own it. It is who you are or at least has helped shape who you are.
Second, ask a trusted friend, colleague, mentor, or coach to assist you in the following:
- To listen to your reflection upon the insights and lessons you have learned.
- To give you feedback to gauge the accuracy of the self-information you gather.
Use these questions to help with your conversation:
- If you had to tell this person your story, what would you include?
- Ask this person how they perceive you? What emotions, values, strengths, or mistakes do they see in you? How do these match, or not match, with the ones you identified?
This exercise can be a powerful way to discover what you have to offer as well as what might be hidden deep within. Becoming more aware of who you are and how you respond or react will help inform your path towards self-awareness and growth.
The Leader You Were Created to Be
Some people spend lots of money to go through this process. All I am attempting to do is to assist you to become the leader you were created to be. If you choose to enter a time of self-reflection, know that you are not alone. It will not be easy, and it might 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. Who you are is how you lead!
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 highlight five aspects of self-awareness that are essential for courageous, Christ-centered leaders in daily life. Check out Episode 167 – 5 Aspects of Self-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